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Messages from the President

In Tourism Image is Everything - October

By: Anna Tanski, President/CEO | October 23, 2016


In our household, tourism and community safety go hand in hand. Literally. For 20 years my husband, Jason has proudly served on the Duluth Police Department as patrol officer, investigator in the Special Investigations Unit (drug unit) and currently as a patrol sergeant. His job provides keen perspectives into the ongoing issues regarding public safety in Duluth.

In turn, my job marketing our glorious city to visitors provides Jason added insight into the immeasurable value placed on a destination’s brand and how negative perceptions can have a significant impact on a city’s image.

The Last Place on Earth is a powerful example of Duluth repeatedly making headlines across Minnesota in a less than positive manner. Once synthetic drug sales turned the sleepy shop into a multi-million dollar operation the dynamic of Superior Street was altered in a negative way.

Visitors were put off by sketchy clientele lining the block around the store, and shocked when aggressively pan-handled by individuals desperate for their next fix. Meeting planners conducting site inspections with our convention sales team expressed concern that such a “big city” problem had invaded Duluth and worried their attendees would feel unsafe.

The reality was visitors and convention delegates might have felt uncomfortable but were not unsafe. Duluth Police vigilantly monitored the store and maintained a steady presence to ensure safety. However, the perception persisted, fueled by negative social media posts and reviews that painted an accurate, yet damaging picture of their experiences.

Despite dedicated efforts by law enforcement, drug use persists in our city, and the ancillary criminal activities associated with it such as theft, breaking and entering and panhandling. Hotels post warnings for their guests to keep valuables locked in the trunk. Sadly, it’s not the warmest welcome but a needed reminder to minimize potential loss of property during their stay.

It takes years to combat and counter negative publicity like Duluth received. The same holds true for cities like Saint Cloud where the recent attack tragically thrust them into the national spotlight. While newsworthy, the devastation caused by natural disasters can be just as difficult to overcome and bruises a community’s reputation, image and brand.

On any given day, Visit Duluth’s social media and TripAdvisor site overflow with an abundance of gorgeous photos submitted by users, including fond memories and top recommendations highlighting the ultimate getaway. We strive to capture and expand upon the positive messaging shared by our visitors and carry it forward in key promotions.

Needless to say, the closing of Last Place was a major win for the police department and our community as a whole. With the owner’s court appeals exhausted, we can only hope it’s done making headlines until we celebrate the opening of Blacklist Brewing Taproom later this year.

Visit Duluth, the police department and numerous community organizations strive to improve our city for locals and visitors alike. We all benefit from these efforts to make Duluth shine.