Attendees who braved the crisp winter air to attend the Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau's annual meeting Monday at the Holiday Inn Riverside were treated to a hearty homestyle meal to warm their bellies and a were presented with a host of positive tourism facts from 2008 to warm their hearts.
Facts detailed in the Minot CVB's annual report include a 33 percent increase in lodging tax from 2007, the largest revenue in CVB history, as well as a record increase in occupancy numbers for 2008, up 8 percent from 2007 and 12 percent from 2006. More than 23,000 people attended 79 conventions held in town throughout last year, generating more than $11.6 million in economic impact.
According to the North Dakota Department of Commerce, tourism is the state's second leading industry, thanks in large part to Canadian patronage, and border traffic between Canada increased by nearly 50 percent overall in spite of the volatile fluctuation of the exchange rate throughout the year.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
Keynote speaker Berkely Young, an expert in the travel industry, spoke to CVB members about different ways to increase travel in times of economic decline.
"It's a good time to be in the travel industry, especially in Minot," said Wendy Howe, executive director of the CVB.
While Minot posted numerous travel-related records in 2008, the travel industry as a whole as taken a severe hit as a direct result from the global and national economic decline.
Berkely Young, keynote speaker for the event and an expert in the travel industry, spoke about the industry's current role in the overall economy.
Although industry experts predict tourism figures to remain flat throughout 2009, Young said that is only half the story.
"Even in the midst of a bad economy, people are still traveling because it is seen as therapy, which is a huge social shift from previous generations, but people are being more selective now so it all comes down to the unique experience," he said. "Visitors that come to Minot want to know what your story is, who you are as a people and a community and what you have to offer them."
Young gave CVB members some tips and strategies for having success within the tourism industry during times of economic decline. First and foremost, he said, communities need to train their "frontline" people hotel receptionists, airport employees and food servers about the unique aspects of their town that would appeal to visitors, not just the places locals go. Other highlighted strategies included the marketing basics of city signage, local historical research, year-round promotion and the communication between the different entities of the travel industry within a community. Most importantly, "things change so fast that we have to be nimble and embrace change when necessary," Young said.
The Minot CVB has taken that message to heart.
"We had great numbers for 2008, but we can't get complacent," Howe said.
To build upon the success of 2008, the 225-member organization is expanding its current operations as well as venturing into new avenues of promotion in 2009.
The Minot CVB will play host to several state and national association conventions including the North Dakota Reading Association in April, the American Birding Association in June and the North Dakota Recreation and Parks Conference in September. The organization also recently won the contract to hold the North Dakota Fire School Conference, which annually draws more than 1,000 in attendance, from 2011 to 2015.
Sometime this spring, the Minot CVB will debut a 24-hour informational touchscreen kiosk outside its office the first of its kind in the state to assist visitors with lodging, food, attractions and other accommodation inquires.
Howe said another goal of the CVB for 2009 will be to have its own YouTube channel in which they will do "live" weekly broadcasts showcasing different aspects of the town. As part of that, the organization will also be looking to hire a new employee to spearhead their social media efforts and take the group "to the next level."