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Summer tourism mixed for Minn. businesses

Associated Press

BEMIDJI, Minn. — Minnesota tourism officials say high gas prices and uncertainty over the economy may have put a damper on summer tourism.

But some businesses say this summer was as good or better than last year. State officials are still collecting and analyzing data on how economic pressures shaped the summer tourist season, but they say the evidence so far suggests things could have been a lot worse.

In Bemidji, the local Chamber of Commerce receptionist, Carol Olson, says compared with last year, the numbers were down a bit in early summer, but the August count was slightly higher than last year. Gas prices that month were lower than their peak in July.

And while rising gas prices brought predictions that long-distance travelers might stay away this summer, Olson says that hasn’t happened.

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"In the months of June and July we saw people from 48 states," Olson said. "We’ve had visitors so far in August from 24 countries and July was 23 countries, and we’ve seen from six provinces in Canada so far. So they are traveling distances."

Some local gift shop owners say sales were dismal in June, but picked up to normal levels after that. Businesses in other parts of Minnesota report the same scenario, which may have had more to do with the weather than the economy. June was cool and wet, and that kept many travelers home. State tourism officials say business during the rest of the summer was mixed.

"It was definitely a different summer from many summers we’ve had in the past," said John Edman, director of the state’s Explore Minnesota tourism office.

Edman said a late summer survey of tourism-related businesses found about a third of respondents said summer revenues were down from last year. Edman said hotel lodging in the state was generally flat, but overall tourism revenues appear slightly up.

"A little over half the respondents indicated that the summer was about the same or better than last year," Edman told Minnesota Public Radio News. "There were still some concerns about the economy, a lot more last minute trip planning, people weren’t necessarily spending as much. So the overall impacts of the economy certainly have had some impacts on travel this summer."

Edman said high gas prices changed the patterns of some travelers. He says it appears that, as expected, many Minnesotans skipped out-of-state travel plans and took vacations closer to home.

Another bright spot was the weak American dollar, Edman said — it made coming to Minnesota a bargain for international travelers.

"The value of the dollar makes travel from Canada and other overseas markets to Minnesota very, very desirable, and we did actually see quite an influx in the number of Canadians coming down for travel and for shopping," he said.

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Some Minnesota resort owners made adjustments this year to make sure their cabins stayed full. Resorts typically require at least a week’s stay, but some resorts this summer were accepting shorter reservations.

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