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Messages from the President

Tourism Can be a Thorny Topic

By: Anna Tanski | September 8, 2017


When searching the internet for quotes about changing perspective, this one attributed to Alphonse Karr, a French writer from the 1800s, really resonated, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”

The same can be said for the 6.7 million people who visit Duluth each year. We can complain about lengthy restaurant waits and traffic congestion, or celebrate tourists are here to infuse the local economy by dining out and spending a few days in town.

Who else would stay in more than 3,200 hotel rooms within city limits plus 2,000 more in the surrounding region? With only local residents dining out, how many restaurants could realistically survive? Imagine the viability of attractions such as the Historic Glensheen Estate whose ticket sales are only five percent local.

Of course there would be some level of tourism traffic to take in Lake Superior’s majesty and explore our beautiful city, but the reality is, without this significant influx of visitors the area’s bustling restaurants and unique attractions would struggle to exist.

Visit Duluth was founded in 1935 as the Duluth Publicity Bureau. Even in those early years city leaders recognized the value of visitors. During challenging economic downturns and population declines in the 1970s and 80s, tourism remained a leading contributor to city coffers. This time of transition brought about the first significant wave of development that expanded Duluth’s amenities, dining and lodging options. However, offerings remained fairly limited with a handful of hotels restaurants.

The explosion of investment and creative vision in the 1990s brought about Canal Park hotel and restaurant developments and the remarkable addition of the Lakewalk. Momentum continued into the next decade featuring multiple DECC expansions, several new attractions and major enhancements to long established ones. All the while, Duluth’s visitor base continued growing, fueling the success of these ventures.

Tourism stretches across every neighborhood within our long and lean city and beyond its borders. Plans are evolving into projects along the St. Louis River Corridor which will continue in 2018 and beyond. Proposed development at Lot D presents an exciting opportunity to improve the visual appeal of our waterfront and extend it westward. Lincoln Park’s craft district is taking off and the HART District is thriving.

As summer fades and visitors begin streaming in to savor spectacular fall colors, attend a sporting event or marvel at Bentleyville, we need only reflect on the the bleak economic scene of Duluth’s not so distant past to remind us what our community would look like today if it weren’t for tourism. Waiting for a table and sitting in traffic can be a reason to celebrate rather than a thorn in our side.