ST. PAUL — Minnesota resorts, hotels and campgrounds reported a positive outcome following their busiest season of the year, a state tourism survey shows.
Explore Minnesota on Tuesday, Aug. 27, released the results of a survey of 300 lodging business owners that showed more than half of those who responded said their financial health was positive heading into autumn. Summer is Minnesota's top earner in terms of tourism dollars.
Forty-two percent of business owners said they saw a bump in their summer occupancy this year compared to the summer of 2018 and nearly half saw revenue jump this year as compared to last summer. Meanwhile, 27% said they saw their incomes stay flat and a little more than 23% reported a dip in revenue.
"They had been telling us it was a really great summer but the survey we just completed really bears that out," said John Edman, director of state tourism promotion agency Explore Minnesota. "Overall it was a very good summer tourism season."
A strong economy and cheap gas prices helped contribute to the stronger demand for vacations, weekend getaways or staycations, Edman said. And that boost in demand for accommodations appeared to be pretty evenly spread around the state.
Bob Dickerson, the fourth-generation owner of family resort Dickerson's Lake Florida Resort in Spicer, said business has been steady this summer, but the weather in May and June "did not cooperate at all." As for farmers, he said, the weather can significantly influence the season's success, but unlike that industry, running a resort doesn't come with insurance to pad the impact of vacancies.
“We’ll end the season right on track, down a little bit," Dickerson said. "But that’s okay, we’ll be back again next year."
With the state's second-biggest tourist season right around the corner, businesses expressed optimism too about the next few months. Thirty-one percent of the resort, hotel and other lodging businesses surveyed said they expect to bring in more revenue this fall and 28% expect to see increased occupancy.
Fourteen percent of respondents, meanwhile said they expect to bring in less revenue than a year ago an 15% expect occupancy numbers to be lower.
A strong fall turnout could help boost a fair summer season at Moose Lake Resort in Blackduck, manager Mike Schwersinske, said. Late ends to the school year and early start dates condensed the summer season and resort staff has increasingly turned to online marketing campaigns, along with September weddings, to buoy their finances.
“We’re trying to get the business in September," he said. "That would help the resort a lot."
Resort numbers inch up
Also this summer, the number of Minnesota resorts listed on the state tourism promotion office's lodging database inched upward for the first time since 2011. That number had steadily slid downward for decades.
Minnesota resort numbers appeared to rebound in 2019 following decades of closures, state tourism reports show.
Explore Minnesota's Tourism Accommodations Database shows that the total number of resorts grew by just under 1% between July of 2018 and July of 2019, from 792 to 799. Hotels, motels and private campgrounds grew slightly over that timeframe as well.
The slight uptick in lodging businesses listed in the state comes after resort numbers in the state steadily eroded over decades, reaching their lowest point in recent history in 2017. At that time, the number of resorts operating in Minnesota was nearly cut in half compared to the 1,378 resorts up and running in 1985.
"I think we’re at a crisis point in Minnesota, we’re losing so many resorts," Dickerson said, pointing to high land values and ballooning property tax rates as factors in resort owners' reasons to sell. “If we don’t find a way to help the small resorters stay in business, it’s tempting for them to take the money and retire."
As the total number of resorts in the state declined, however, the remaining resorts brought in more revenue, according to state data. Minnesota resort owners in 2017 reported increased tax collections. Resorts in the state brought in $18.7 million in tax revenue in 2017, up 25 percent from a decade prior. That revenue data is the most recent available.
Edman said the resort owners who've had the financial means to stick it out and to adapt their offerings to new generations of travelers have reaped the benefit of a large pool of vacationers navigating a smaller supply of options.
"The number of resorts in the state has been declining over decades," Edman, Explore Minnesota's director, said. "But those that are here are doing very well."
In Minnesota, the tourism industry brings in $15.3 billion a year and attracts more than 73 million travelers annually. And it employs more than 270,000 workers in the state, roughly 11 percent of Minnesota's private sector workforce. Leisure and hospitality industries in Minnesota generate 18% of the state's sales tax revenues.
The state Legislature this year approved a $28.7 million appropriation for tourism efforts over the next two years. And the tourism office can hit additional private funding match requirements.