Spring is in the air, and many vacationers have already set their summer
travel plans. Even the best travel industry gurus have difficulty predicting
"the next big thing" in tourism. But growth in some niche areas
and insights from tourism experts may provide clues regarding where district
tourism is headed.
District states appear to be echoing some of the same trends: an
increase in ecotourism, such as camping or other outdoor wildlife
adventures; developing cultural and heritage tourism programs, including
stays at a historic fort or on an Indian Reservation; or farm entertainment
tourism, which offers hands-on experiences.
Agricultural tourism has already gained a foothold in some district
states. There are more than 200 farms in the state involved in ag
entertainment tourism, according to the Minnesota Grown Directory.
That's small potatoes compared to Montana's 1,100 ag tourism operations,
according to a 1997 survey by Montana Agricultural Statistics. The
Dakotas have little data on farm entertainment venues, but tourism
departments in each state have plans to study the industry to help
The driver behind the growth in farm tourism appears rooted in a
broader desire of people to be outside and communing with nature
in some way. Assessing tourism opportunities for farmers in the
state, a recent report by the University of Minnesota Agricultural
Tourist Services evaluated leisure time and travel interests of
state residents and found outdoor activities were the most popular,
followed by sports, cultural and animal-related activities.
Farmers are getting into the tourism business for different reasons,
said Kent Gustafson, an extension educator at the University of
Minnesota Tourism Center. Some are involved in tourism to supplement
their income; others are interested in educating the public and
introducing people to farming, he said. The industry in Minnesota
is still in its infancy"a niche industry, marketed by
word of mouth," Gustafson saidand scattered throughout
One of the pioneers in this field is This Old Farm in Brainerd,
Minn., opened by Dick Rademacher 23 years ago to showcase his farm
collectables. This Old Farm has since expanded to include an entire
old-fashioned town complete with a general store, sweet shop and
saloon. The 35-acre museum opens its 35 buildings Memorial Day weekend.
Last year, the operation expanded to sell neighboring farmers'
beef and pork products at its weekly seasonal market. Alan Jabs,
a neighbor and member of the Nokay Lake Agriculture Association,
developed a giant corn maze that attracted more than 5,000 people.
The operation hopes that new events, including Special Olympics,
along with plans to extend the farm's gardens and build a new market
cafe and theater, will push this year's attendance over 15,000.
Ranchers like John Hanson in Bowman, ND, need to find ways to attract
visitors in order to stay financially afloat. "The ranch just
can't do it anymore," said Hanson, who raises bison, quarter
horses and beef cattle while running Hanson's Logging Camp Ranch.
"Commodity ag in any region is no longer able to be the sole
provider for the community. There aren't as many people on the land.
Rural communities are starting to whither away. That requires a
different approach to make changes to make the economy work,"
In 1995, the ranch earned $2,000 gross revenue from various tourism
ventures. Today it grosses $80,000 in revenue from about 1,500 visitors
per year. Hanson's ranch hosts horseback riders, bison hunters,
photography workshops and educational classes in calf management
and the ecosystem, all taught by area instructors. "In 10 years
city slickers may not want the horse riding experience, but education
is something that's always going to continue," Hanson said.
Although the ranch is a little behind in bookings from last year,
Hanson expects a great summer.
A bit o' culture
All district tourism departments have cultural tourism projects
in the works, whether emerging or expanding. Montana is focused
on three different cultural tourism corridors within the state,
said Victor Bjornberg, tourism development and education coordinator
for Travel Montana.
The Bitterroot Valley, south of Missoula, is developing a Lewis
and Clark corridor, along with promoting its local artists and theater
groups. Great Falls, Fort Benton and Havre make up the second corridor
and are creating an array of attractions, some focused on Lewis
and Clark. The third corridor consists of the historic mining areas
of Deer Lodge and Butte, where heritage attractions are the focal
R.J. Young, president of the Montana Tribal Alliance, is involved
in promoting tourism for seven state tribes. "We've been working
closely with Lewis and Clark [bicentennial] planners because so
many reservations have a bit of history with that." Young says
tribes are offering encampments, traditional storytelling, horseback
riding, games and signature events. The big push behind developing
a cultural tourism program among the tribes is economic development
and the education of the tribal youth. "We're still fairly
new, and we don't know how well we'll do, but we're willing to stick
with it," Young said.
Back to nature
Catering to people's desire for outdoors experiences is also a
growing trend in the district.
At the northern tip of Wisconsin along Lake Superior, Bayfield draws
visitors from Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. It has no water
slides, malls or splashy entertainment venues and draws primarily
couples and empty nesters, along with a few outdoor-minded families.
"As we went into fall our [tourism] didn't drop, it continued
to grow," said Carol De Mars, executive director, Bayfield
Area Chamber of Commerce. "I predict we'll exceed last year's
numbers by quite a bit, based on inquiries," said De Mars.
For the past five years camping has grown, she said. Campsites
are filled in July and Augustthere are 190 campsites within
Bayfield Township and 57 more on the Apostle Islands. "I'm
not sure if that trend is because of family values or because of
the demographics we've been targeting. Camping may have increased
because of economics. You can vacation longer without spending money
on lodging and food. Most sites are on Lake Superior, which has
the water element people are looking for," De Mars said.
For the past two years camping has become more popular in Michigan's
Upper Peninsula (UP) as well, and many summer resorts report an
increase in bookings. With a history of mining in the UP, copper
mining tours like those at Keweenaw National Historic Park in Calumet
are particularly popular and growing the fastest.
Between 1998 and 2000, visits to Marquette County grew by 13 percent,
and tourism spending increased to $85 million. Dog sledding, which
has become a big hit in the UP in the past five years, contributed
to the boost, and a handful of outfitters have sprung up as a result
of the sport's growing popularity. Marquette hosts the UP200 in
February, a dog-sledding race that draws participants and fans nationally.
A locale growing in popularity with its highflying attractions
is Wabasha, Minn., home to 20 pairs of nesting eagles and declared
by Congress as the National Eagle Center. From November through
March, during migration, 100 to 200 eagles can be spotted between
Lake City and Wabasha. The center has seen a big increase in tourist
traffic since its opening in July 2000, with 15,000 visitors in
2001one-third more than in 2000. It attracts most of its visitors
from the Twin Cities, Rochester, Minn., and Chicago, but last year
guests came from 50 states and 49 countries.
Road trip, anyone?
According to a recent Kiplinger study, a surprisingly robust summer
travel season is taking shape for the United States, and pent-up
demand is a big reason. But whether that is the case for district
states remains to be seen. The study said Americans who postponed
bookings and canceled trips because of Sept. 11 or the economy are
itching to go. Despite firmer prices, the study predicted a return
to longer vacations, one week vs. only a few days. Additionally,
it said more U.S. vacationers will drive, sticking closer to home,
which is what district tourism departments are hoping for.
North Dakota's tourism director predicts the 2002 summer tourism
season will be higher than 2001 because of their new ad campaign,
new activitiessuch as the 97-mile Maah Daah Hey bike and horse
trail in the Badlandsand people traveling closer to home.
In the UP, "normally I'd guess we'd be up 4 [percent] to 5
percent this summer, but because of Sept. 11, I don't know. With
the economy in the tank and layoffs ... if I came out of this summer
with the same numbers as last year I'd be happy," said Tom
Nemacheck, executive director, Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation
Association. "Normally, we don't spend all our marketing money,
but his year we're going down to the nubs. We're not holding any
Travelers spent $11.38 billion in Wisconsin during 2001, representing
a 3 percent increase over the revised 2000 expenditure. Although
state tourism grew last year, some areas are still struggling. La
Crosse has suffered from a lack of tourists since last fall. Tom
Tourville, executive director, La Crosse Visitor's Bureau said,
"The trend has been just trying to survive. We've had a bad
winter, flooding last fall and the aftermath of Sept. 11. Many people
are just trying to figure out how to balance tourism and get the
wagon back on the trail."
They're "cautiously optimistic," in Big Sky country,
said Mary Boyle, publicity coordinator for the Montana Department
of Commerce, regarding the summer tourism season. The state is looking
at a 1 percent to 2 percent increase from 2001, in which they had
9.5 million visitors (nonresidents), who brought about $1.66 billion
into Montanaa little above what they saw in 2000.
South Dakota is looking to bounce back from a poor 2001, when visitor
spending dropped 3.7 percent. "2001 was the worst year we've
had in a long time,"said Patti Van Gerpen, cabinet secretary
for the state's tourism department. Even Mount Rushmore was down
2 percent in visitation last year until Sept. 11. Afterward, the
park saw a jump in patriotic visits, breaking monthly visitation
records from October to January that helped the attraction finish
the year with a 2 percent increase, which is "pretty significant,"
Van Gerpen said. Visitor inquiries are also up 3.5 percent over
"We work with tour groups, and since Sept. 11 many tour companies
have come up with new toursforgoing Washington, D.C., and
New York and coming to Mount Rushmore," said Van Gerpen. "We
seem to be benefiting from displaced tours."