(Air date: August 18, 2022)
The tourism industry can be a critical catalyst to help communities develop economically and demographically. While the impact of COVID-19 will linger for years to come, businesses and community organizations across Minnesota have proven resilient in the face of fluctuating demand, workforce shortages, climate changes, and other issues.
During this conversation, our panelists discuss examples of how they have responded to these challenges and much more.
- Xinyi Qian, director
University of Minnesota Tourism Center
- Dan Hartman, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC)
- Bryan Anderson, Minnesota Department of Transportation
- Justin Otsea, Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC)
- The University of Minnesota Tourism Center provides research, education, and engagement to strengthen the tourism industry across the state.
- Read Director Qian’s interview with Extension’s Source magazine about her vision and priorities for the UMN Tourism Center.
Read this episode's conversation below.
Note: Our Vital Connections On Air episodes are audio-based interviews. Written transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before referencing content in print.
Opening (Justin Otsea): In tourism, a sense of some of what we do when we're working with communities is trying to undo some of that narrative that, you know, we don't need these people to come here. Duluth is a good example. We get some really amazing businesses that get built here and they wouldn't be here if it weren’t for our tourism industry.
Christy Kallevig: Welcome to Vital Connections on Air, a podcast brought to you by University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality that explores the trends and topics important to communities and leaders throughout Minnesota. My name is Christy Kallevig, and today we are bringing you an interesting panel discussion led by Xinyi Qian, the Director of University of Minnesota's Tourism Center.
The panel held on May 4th is part of the Tourism Center’s quarterly advisory meeting and their celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week. In this panel, you will hear insights from three different panelists, Bryan Anderson, District One planning director with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Dan Hartman, Executive Director of the Duluth entertainment and convention center, and Justin Otsea, Senior Planner with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission.
Let's listen in and hear their insights on the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 on the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation industry, how the industry is building resilience and what the trends and issues are that the industry is currently facing.
Xinyi Qian: My first question obviously starts with the impact of the pandemic, and by now it has to be more than two years, so we would like to know what are the long-lasting effects of the pandemic on the travel tourism and outdoor recreation industry, and at the same time, what has the industry been doing to address these long-lasting effects and also to strengthen its resilience?
Dan Hartman: I got the look. I think this is a great question. I think a lot of us in hospitality, tourism in general, have found a lot of creative ways to do what we've done in the past with remarkably less staff, I think we've also found creative ways to get out there more, and so you've seen ... I came from a different organization prior and man, we found a lot of creative ways to have maybe a third of the staff we once used, and that will probably be that way from the future on. And so I think a lot of businesses in hospitality particularly figure that out, and I'll say at the convention center, we've also continue to ask those hard questions, because I think for a lot of us in the leisure travel, we've kind of rebounded and had a lot of business come that quick.
On the convention side, it hasn't been that quick, and so we are still grappling with what are other models, what other staffing ways we can handle things, because the large, giant apparatus of the past may not be as functional and as quick and as efficient as what we probably need in the future, and I think you're seeing a lot of convention centers around the country taking a pretty wide open look at different ways to do things, which on one hand, and I think for a lot of us is a scary thing, but on the other hand is also really exciting opportunity for a lot of folks, and you're going to see convention centers changing a lot in the next couple of years because they've all had to look inward ... much harder than they ever have in the past.
Bryan Anderson: From the transportation perspective here is a kind of an interesting question. I'm a transportation expert, I'm not a tourism expert, but I do have a lot of knowledge because I work with these groups on a day-to-day basis. And I'll take the North Shore, for example, during the pandemic, the North Shore had that influx of people ... It was crazy if you were to drive up the North Shore during those weekends, and it really led to overuse in the Boundary Waters as well.
And so some of the longer lasting effects to that is, is that now they reduce the permits in the Boundary Waters. So there's fewer permits or people that individuals to go into the wilderness area, so it's just kind of an unexpected consequence of something like that happening.
And then for all the traffic going up the North Shore, for example, in the City of Two Harbors. We had backups in Two Harbors of two to three miles out on the expressway, trying to get through that small community. That's not good for business, that's not good for anybody. And MNDOT has a reconstruction project in the city of Two Harbors in 2025. We typically try to get ahead of those projects with planning about seven to eight years in advance, so we already kind of done the planning for that community during the pandemic, and it really led to changes that we're going to make in that community when we go in to do the reconstruction.
So some of the effects of the pandemic had are leading to the community coming to us saying, hey, you know, we have too much traffic, we need changes and so forth, so it really impacted our planning efforts there, and also in the North Shore as well, we're doing a lot more pedestrian crossing enhancements and so forth, because we had so many people up there just try and get out in the wilderness and they explore on the trails and so forth.
And then lastly, this isn't necessarily related to transportation, but I did want to note we had brought up telework earlier, and I was at a conference this past week, and they had mentioned it, it's kind of a mixed blessing for Minnesota because we're losing about 25,000 individuals from the state, we’re more or less a donor state to other states. People are fleeing our higher taxes in the state and our climate to Florida, Texas, the Carolinas.
Bryan Anderson: But on the same token, that telework does open up the opportunity for people to come up midweek when it is not, is that the costs less for the family, and that's great for the tourism perspective to fill up the shoulder seasons in those mid-week spots in the summer time.
Justin Otsea: Like Brian alluded to, that popularity that increased demand was wild and from a North Shore Scenic Drive Council, at least our byways perspective, we're starting to think about creative ways of partnering with some of the other byways and historical societies and sites that are kind off of 61. You would think you just want as much traffic on your scenic byway as possible, when you're seeing some of those increases, there's an idea of if we can get people to some of all these other cool places that are off of the byway ... It'll enhance the user experience for everyone. That filters into certainly safety and stuff like that, in addition to just experience of being in a maybe less crowded place. So, we're trying to do that.
Another area of a collaboration that we're kind of seeking out that we weren't really even looking at before the pandemic is working recreational industries and what they're trying to help facilitate their planning and a little more comprehensive fashion.
I know you have a lot of different identities, and especially along the North Shore, but in the region in general, is building trails. Sometimes it's the county, sometimes it's a mountain bike group, sometimes it's this municipality, you have the Superior Hiking Trail, you know those mobile trail associations. You have a lot of different recreational entities doing work and making improvements, driving some of this demand in certain areas, but they're not necessarily talking. Improvements of mountain bikes in one area is going to inundate parking in a certain area, but are those conversations happening that, “Hey, we need to have this expansion.”
We have started to see that. It doesn't seem like that has happened, and as the buy way, we connect all of these entities, and so that's kind of how we've stumbled on this role, that we might be able to help future demand by having those planning conversations now. Yeah, and then outside of the direct tourism perspective, there's been a big impact on housing. I think we'll probably get into it a little bit more, but the telework and ability to work anywhere and conversion of short-term rentals is a real conversation happening throughout the shore or at least where we're seeing it first, and it's just kind of having ripple effects as well.
Xinyi Qian: All right, thank you all very much. And as a follow-up question for Dan, for sure, but of course, welcome to the other two to chime in here, the follow-up question, inevitably, is about workforce. It sounds like it will continue to be a lower level compared with pre-pandemic, so it would be great if you can share some details regarding how you have been creative and if you obviously still trying to hire, what are some of the new ways to do outreach? Some of the partners that you are working with or working more with?
Dan Hartman: Thank you. Yeah, this is a great question that is still definitely not resolved, so I think for all of us in the room, workforce has been probably the greatest challenge of the last year. For here at the DECC, I think it's an interesting story that when I was hired last June, we had less than 30 employees, and by October we needed 300. It was a great time to hire new employees at a low wage, and so we had to find some really creative solutions quick and really be pretty hard on what was working, what wasn't.
So from our perspective, the biggest one was any type of fair we could go to and have a couple of people who are just very aggressive, I call booth-talkers was honestly very good, but in the non-traditional sense, love or hate it, it was Facebook, and our Facebook ads were definitely our second best platform for getting new hires. On that note, because everyone was trying to hire at the same time, we learned that the weirder the ad, the better it was. So our most successful ad for hiring to date was a picture of a Narwhal ripped off of Wikipedia, and it was literally just a picture of a Narwhal and it says this is a Narwhal.
And we misspelled Narwhal intentionally. And the second sentence, we said, we know we spelled this wrong, and that just got people's attention and then we said, Hey, by the way, we're looking to hire people. We had more conversions on that ad than any of our other ads we made, and it's because every business has the same picture of the same stock image almost of people like look, happy place, and so everyone got used to seeing that.
You had to break the clutter because so many people are trying to hire, and so that was definitely one of the tactics. I will say, I think we all did this and we're all still doing this, the constant job. We now have an in-house job fair indirectly every Wednesday, and so every Wednesday, we announce that, hey, if you need a job, come in person.
And so we have ... I think we've all done this, but we have dramatically made it easier to be hired. You can walk in, we'll fill the form out for you. We do what we can to make sure that you're coming in the door, because it wasn't easy to find. I had hundreds of people in a very short period of time at a low wage that was generally lower than McDonalds or anyone else in town, and so I think that will be a consistent, continuous struggle, but ... yeah.
Xinyi Qian: Thank you, Dan. Anything else to add?
Dan Hartman: The question is, where did all the workers go ... and I would add into there too, who are the workers that did show up, did we lose some of the workers going south and where did they go? I can't answer this question either, but I think this is a great, larger question that people who are doing research would be great to know more about, and I'd say anecdotally as well, watching from the outside, I think it looks like the college age and younger didn't show up, who normally do.
And so I'd say a regional question is, did a lot of those students who typically stay around for the summer go back home, because they may not have gone back to school the next fall because of the pandemic? Were there easier ways for them just not to have to work? Was there some other weird supplemental income that was around that normally wasn't?
On the other hand, because I don't think this question gets asked a lot is, who did show up? Because I'll say that if it wasn't for the retirees, I don't know how the DECC could be open right now, and so the retires in our community really showed up, and I joked about it earlier about, we need to fill the forms out for people.
That's why … is we had a lot of people who don't all use a computer that we had to help go through our systems, and you think if anyone's gone through fast food in Northern Minnesota, you've seen it ... because the age went up. I would say the average age seems to have gone up dramatically, and I'd say it reflects that younger demographic not showing up, and then the older demographic being the one who is like, I know I'm retired, I wouldn’t mind an extra part-time job, and I mean, they have saved the DECC. So I think that's interesting too, because from a marketing standpoint, it changed who we were sending the ads to.
Justin Otsea: The only other item I had mentioned, and I don't have the statistics in front of me, but the labor, the visa item that you mentioned is definitely that hit the North Shore in the county workforce and even that hospitality industry relies on that program and delays and COVID-19 in general, had ripple effects into that, and they were feeling it. And again, that also the stress on the housing where the folks lower-earning wages are going to live in some of these places, especially as short-term rentals and that increases.
Xinyi Qian: Okay, so let's continue with our second question for the panel, which is “what is the industry relationship with community development, and in what ways can our industry contribute to community development?” So we are clearly putting our industry squarely into a bigger and a broader context of the community and also economic development, and I think it is a healthy thing to do, and I would definitely welcome your insights.
Bryan Anderson: A couple of different examples of community development and transportation- type related projects. I'll use a small community of Beaver Bay, for example. It's 150 people, and several years ago the Gitche Gumme State Trail was built through their community. They said well how can we take advantage of the state trail? They had it run down an old gravel parking lot and they thought, No, we could really build this into a trail head facility for parking, we could provide restrooms, we could provide trail access kiosk information, trails down to the river, keep people in our community longer.
And that's kind of one example of where businesses came together, MnDOT came to the table and the county. There was probably 15 different partners and funding partners associated with that project, but it was really driven by the businesses and the community members saying, We really want people to come to our community and spend money. So that's one example. And on the North Shore, a lot of people don't want necessarily more people to come, they want the same number of people to come, but to stay longer. It's easier on them to have those repeat customers come and maybe stay a day longer than be inundated with new customers, so that's just one example.
One other quick example is there was also a wayside built on the North Shore, the business community, and working with a North Shore Job Council that said, you have a project coming up here, we'd really like to provide input into that project, and we'd really like to have more parking at this location, we'd really like to have a pedestrian underpass, so it's a Split Rock River Wayside. It was built, the community brought in about 300,000 worth of funding, MnDOT matched that funding and built it, so it's just kind of an example of how the industry can work with multiple partners, come up with community projects.
Xinyi Qian Thank you Bryan.
Justin Otsea: Yeah, it's a direct relationship. Thinking and forward with a lot of our communities, especially in rural Arrowhead region, it just seems like it's a critical cog in a sustainable economy moving ahead, and so you have to kind of view it that way and from a tourism sense of some of what we do when we're working with communities is trying to undo some of that narrative that we don't need these people to come here.
Duluth is a good example, we get some really amazing businesses that get built here and they wouldn't be here for work for our tourism industry, but then even with that, you know, there's that desire to have those nice amenities from a resident standpoint, but there's definitely a narrative that we're seeking to undo of all those things, sometimes it looks like those things are conflicting, but how can we maybe work through community events or in giving back to the community?
Justin Otsea: I think of, you know, one of the things that sticks out to me recently, Spirit Mountain gave a couple of free $5.00 lift tickets to Duluth residents, picked a couple of days over the season, because there's a big push back. You've seen it in the paper, some of the tax movement there, and they certainly face some challenges, but that's just kind of a way to say, hey, there's a narrative out there that this amenity is here, but it's not necessarily catered to me as a resident. It's here for other people coming up, and if you can make that accessible a little bit more, or kind of give back to the community in a way, and that's just one example, and that's kind of a way that you can help maybe undo that bigger narrative, because when you're conflicting and it comes to investments and vision, you're just kind of be stuck in in the mud for a little while there, but if you build that value from the community sense and everyone's on the same page.
Dan Hartman: I would say... I guess two things I would really push on, and I think this indirectly highlight of this is I think we as an industry need to do a better job of communicating what good we're doing for our communities, because a lot of us are doing some pretty phenomenal stuff, and figuring out ways that it just resonates with some of these larger residents, so in Duluth, for example, like our tourism tax, we also have a sales tax, and our tourism tax is built to help generate more of that sales tax. Well, that sales tax, it's so much money that it pays for our entire police department, and so people don't realize that their property taxes would be double in size if Duluth didn’t have that sales tax. Well, 30% of that sales tax come from tourism money, everyone's taxes in Duluth are literally lower because of tourism, but the number of Duluthians who know that are probably less than 2.02%. And so just that education gap, like how can we get that out there better and then too...and that's something I think is what I'm really excited about in this new role here, is viewing spaces like convention centers to help be places to grow community development, so this can be using convention centers as leverage or catalyst to push for a music industry, push for a film ministry, push for food in your community. So I think all of our larger communities like Duluth have this, but there is an Arrowhead Chef's Club is a gathering of all of the chefs of the region, and it kind of went into a funk for a number of years, because no one had a place to gather them. So the last couple of months, and then guys, let's bring this group back together, let's have the chefs talk to each other, because as the chefs share their recipes with each other, it makes the larger food scene all get better.
Dan Hartman: And so last night we had home-grown music fast, it was a gathering of all the bands of Duluth, and so the more our convention centers can be more about building that community development, it allows the community to grow, which I would argue in the end, helps the Convention Center grow as well, but why this is important is every year prior to this year, this convention center has denied the home-grown music fest to be in the building, because the Home Grown Music Fest doesn't have any money and they couldn't pay the rent of the space. Well, we made up what we had normally got on the rent on the bar tab last night. It's good to have a holistic view sometimes too, if there's more to this than we can we have, but I think community centers or convention centers are really that two words they're combined sometimes, and sometimes we forget that. And so how can we be a catalyst to get these groups together to make it all better?
Xinyi Qian: Very cool, and as a follow-up question, and I would also welcome insight from our audience, that is what Justin mentioned and the other two gentlemen also alluded to that is having desirable amenities for residents, which together with the pandemic has been facilitating the gradual shift in terms of the “M” in DMO, traditionally, we always call them destination marketing organizations, and now there is a trend to start thinking about them as Destination Marketing and Management organizations. And so I would be curious to see...none of you here at work directly for a DMO, but I know Dan sits on the board of one at least. So I wonder, what are your thoughts in terms of this gradual shift in mentality and where we might see things go going forward, is it going to be a sustainable trend or are we eventually going to go back to the mostly marketing side of things?
Dan Hartman: Good question. So the pandemic, good or bad, made a lot of communities and a lot of organizations take a hard, deep look at stuff, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. For this conversation in particular, in Duluth, there was a real tough conversation that was had that people may or may not want to know was data-driven, but was ... And on one hand, if you follow a DMO model where you contract out most of your services and don't reveal it, well, this is going to be a rough time, because people are taking a hard look at that stuff.
On the other hand, I would argue this is a moment because of the new revolution of marketing around social media, DMOs, if they become actively engaged in their marketing, have a much better chance of being relevant and useful than they've ever been in the past, because it's really hard for an agency to have the day-to-day feel of the community where a DMO could do that.
But if you're a DMO that doesn't do social well, and once again, farms on most of those services is going to be really hard for that community who uses you as a pass to justify these expenses when costs are going up everywhere and everyone's asking for money for a whole bunch of variety of stuff that on face value, frankly, may have a much higher ROI, especially if you're not giving data.
And so I think this is a new era where you can't say, our marketing is great, my buddies told me so. That ain’t going to work anymore, guys, you got to have data of like, “This is how many people you brought to your site, this is how many conversions we have,” you got to get specific on this stuff, and this goes for the Convention Center now, we are getting asked much harder questions about how much ROI we bring into the community.
I can't go to the mayors office and say, “Hey, Homegrown was great last night.” I’ve got to come back to her and say, “This is how many visitors were here, this was the percentage of the out-of-town that were a part of that. I mean, these data questions are getting asked more, and frankly they should be.
This is all public money, this is all taxpayer funding, it is, there's accountability. And so I think this is going to be a tough moment, because I think we all felt like we were being accountable, but really, if you got drilled down some of these questions, we weren't ... And I've been on that board three times, now I'm on my third run now, and I remember there was a campaign on the long side of the semi-truck, and we as a board had asked, like, how is it going? And the answer was great.
And we're like, Well, what's the conversions for customers in Duluth? And you hear a lot, and you know, that ain't going to cut it anymore. We have to know those true answers, because this is public money, and this is a time where we're all looking at stuff much harder than we have in the past. So that's my long answer. Sorry.
Xinyi Qian: No, that's great, thank you.
Justin Otsea: Yeah, it's not very related, but if you're bringing up the Homegrown, I kind of jog something in my mind to go back if you don't mind. There's a really a good opportunity right now, I think, coming out of the pandemic to appreciate and lift up art and music … art in various ways, various forms, I should say. I've heard a lot of lock-downs happen and things kind of close down.
I think a greater appreciation for some of those things that maybe you were taking for granted, whether it was just an acoustic guitar player at the brewery or handcrafted goods at the local market, those events weren't there anymore, so then those things weren’t available, and I think once they were gone, people are now so much more excited to come and support those orders because they know how critical those dollars were.
There's just a new value on that local angle, and there's a big opportunity to your point, Dan, and being able to connect with that community and bring people together because it really brings up everybody and brings up all boats, and so using community space in a creative way, like that, and I think art is just a really great place to try to do that right now, so I just wanted to mention that and I think it's great what you're doing with the space here.
Xinyi Qian: Thank you, Justin.
Justin Otsea: So I want to redirect this to Bryan, because I’m curious on the model question here, and I'm curious, in the Twin Cities, the travel patterns are still a lot of different commuting. It’s still way easier than it ever was, and I’m wondering how the department is thinking about its own resources and how to re-deploy and how to think more of about mobility rather than transportation?
Bryan Anderson: Sure, that's a really good point. We do see numbers almost to what they were before the pandemic or during the pandemic though, and realistically, the number one issue out there right now is everyone turning into a racecar driver, to be honest. Our speeding deaths on Minnesota roads have gone up by double. We had 162 speeding-related deaths last year, and realistically, we're really trying to get it out to safety and we're also really working closely with DPS and the State Patrol as well.
The mobility issue, we are investing in all kinds of different modes as far as transit, light rail and so forth in the metro area, but in Northeast Minnesota, we do invest in our Duluth-area transit and so forth, but it is a little bit more challenging to get away from the vehicle at this time. We do have Arrowhead Transit in the region and so forth, but right now, I mean, we are auto-centric in Northeast Minnesota, and I foresee that for many years to come.
Justin Otsea: Why is that? And I don't mean that as, why are you doing this authority up to the levels that it used to be, but I would argue that it's much more stretched out, people being able to... with flex schedules, things like that, I have a guess that the congestion has spilled out there. I guess I'm curious, are we going to move away from building another road to thinking about something else, that would be a greater opportunity for mobility, for example, broadband.
Mobility is about getting people to the things that they need to do, that seems like what the old mission had the traditional mission for the Department of Transportation, you need to go from your home to your work, and I'm just kind of curious if there's any thinking about some evolution away from a vehicle to how do you connect people through the things that they're supposed to be and what we’re doing.
Bryan Anderson: Sure, in our long-range planning and so forth, obviously we want to reduce CO2 emissions, so that's one of our goals and reduce the DMT, however, when you reduce DMT, you also reduce our tax structure for how we collect our revenue, so it's kind of a tough one there, but it in regards to spending more on roads, or making more roads and so forth.
Realistically, we're a preservation-only district in Northeast Minnesota, so we only preserve ... we don't expand because we just don't have the resources to do that, and realistically, the only way we ever expand is when we get federal grants and so forth to do that. So I can only speak for our district. I know the metro is different, they are expanding and so forth, but they're growing also. So Northeast Minnesota is not growing population-wise.
Justin Otsea: And if I could just add, I think the density is a huge barrier, and I work a little bit and just started to work a little bit in coordination with a position at ARDC that's looking to coordinate regional transit and because there's a few different entities in the region, and hopefully that kind of your idea, can we maybe share these resources better to get people moving around and move away from needing to have single vehicles, but what's really challenging for them and kind of similar to this workforce item we're talking about here today is they can't find drivers.
And it's a work person power problem, and addition to some of those challenges like a lot of rural folks, you get way out there. How does that model work? How can you go pick somebody up 20 miles out of town and get them to where they're back within a mile that isn’t just subsidizing it, and a lot of that comes with getting drivers, and so if we can't even get drivers for our existing ... how are we trying to collaborate that and maybe we can change that in the future, but ... that's just a big challenge.
Xinyi Qian: Alright, thank you. So I think that this our next question. Now, we are not only talking about current issues, but also looking ahead, so the next to question is, what or the three … well, three is a random number, so if you're free to change that, but anyhow, what are the three biggest trends and or issues that our industry is looking at?
Justin Otsea: Okay, I'll start. So this is the tourism industry with transportation woven in. Obviously, I know housing demand is probably one of the largest and workforce that also as a transportation component as well, because when you don't have somewhere to live close by, you travel long distances to find somewhere to live. So you're on the road more and causing congestion and CO2, and there's a lot of ramifications to that. Also a shoulder season.
Ten years ago, I want to say in the North Shore, because we talked about shoulder seasons and we need to get more people up here in the shoulder seasons. Well, realistically, do I want to go up to Grand Marais when I know all my restaurants are going to be closed, and the wayside rests are closed and so forth? You need to provide those opportunities, and I think that's really transitioning right now on the North Shore, for example.
Even the Angry Trout in Grand Marais, a lot of people like to go there. You know it's open year round now. It just provides another opportunity or an excitement for people to travel up the shore, so I think that's also really helping is that the businesses are staying open during the shoulder seasons.
I've kind of touched on it a few times. The workforce is just a huge issue, especially when you get into a more rural area, we just don't have as many jobs there sometimes temporary, and again, it's really tied to housing and yes, this is all holistic, it hits into transportation and it hits into taxes, but we're seeing a really big cinch on the housing market, I think it's been said that Duluth is a wild market over the last 18 months. I think it just came out rental rates here are like 2% vacancy rates, which is not where you want to be.
It sounds great, but you need to have some of that flexibility, so folks can come and go, and it's really challenging, and basically, as you go up the shore and there's been a huge influx on short-term rentals and now you're seeing some communities kind of catching up and saying, Hey, we don't...we're putting a limit, or we're saying you have to live here nine months, Duluth Township, just said you have to be here nine months of the year if you're going to make this a short-term rental.
And so really driving towards wanting community members and not necessarily just people visiting. So of course there's a balance there, but we're just right now seeing a little bit of an imbalance because you see it, I think more nationally, and some of the mountain towns are saying to kind of seeing things a little bit quicker than we are, or at least a greater scale, but if you're not able to have the workers in the restaurants or shops to provide that vacation experience to the vacationers than what are we even doing? And you really need to be able to have both of those things.
And so they're really tied together. It is just the kind of thing to go to the third issue, and then it's kind of a wide-ranging one, but recently just kind of realizing we need to be looking at it through all of our industries is climate change. Things are changing dramatically. We’re starting to see it, and I just came back from National Planning Conference, and I'm hearing organizations and counties on the West Coast who are having to make the decision about 14 miles of road in their county that's going to get washed out.
They're having those discussions right now, and that was a big alarm bell to me that yeah, we’re seeing some of this might be a little more insulated inside, but if we're talking about planning, we really need to be thinking about all of this because it's from tourism aspect, it starts to impact what the winter season looks like, it touches when these things can be open or see maybe the springs, people are long get into the shoulder season more, and maybe it's even going to be a little bit more desirable than it has in the past, but if we're not planning for it, we're going to have businesses closed or the workforce not available.
So that folks...even if we want them, because now the MLS are trying to get people up kind of in those shoulder seasons, and there just has to be coordinating there, and that's going to keep impacting things in various ways, we can talk about the levels of intensity, but it has to just be a lens with everything we look at.
Dan Hartman: So I'm going to not talk what they said, but those are all super trends. So I’ll start with negatives and go to positives. One, the unknown is going to be a continued trend that we don't really know what's going to happen, and so that is a really kind of an uneasy thing for us to grapple with, but we hear this from conventions, we hear this from people trying to plan out their lives. This just a general sense of the unknown is not a great factor, but I think that's going to be a trend for the next year.
Yeah, I'll go to positive. So what we're seeing or hearing a lot, and I see this on the national scale, is there's a greater sense for escapism. So people have that sense of unknown, but people are like, I don't really give a shit, and I just want to go somewhere and enjoy life a little bit, and so you're seeing even on the convention side, there's a much bigger push for networking, socializing, because they haven't done this for two years, and I think you're going to see even more of that in the continuing as things open up on the corporate side to the association side.
And I would say connected to that, the other big trend that I think we’re as community is going to get more involved in is this idea of fun, that we want to make our spaces fun. We're moving away from what I call the Microsoft model where everything looks super professional and corporate and trying to make corporate actually look fun and exciting. And so that's a trend that you're seeing on the national scale, you're going to start seeing that more and more in Minnesota, where when you build a hotel lobby, they're going to want to have some fun things in a hotel lobby.
I just came back from Disney World, who unfortunately seems to be always ahead of the trends and things, and I love that when you went into the lobby, the hotel was that they had a TV area set aside so that when you got your room, your kids can watch TV, of course, a Disney movie. But it was a great example of they created fun all throughout that space, and you're seeing that in some of the most corporate hotels across the country, and you'll start to see that in conventional center spaces.
So I love it when you see an ad for the Houston Convention Center, they're showing off their fun spaces now. Because they know that their clients are looking for that once again, that escapism, but also that fun ... They want to bring their corporate team and get away and have a good time, where it was taboo a few years ago that when you sold the convention that it had to be only work all the time. Now, that transition is hard, taking a turn, and I frankly, I think that's a fun trend to see, no pun intended there, but that trend of fun is the big one that I'm excited to watch.
Xinyi Qian: And I would like to add because I do have a psychology background, so I think it is also the psychology, to some extent, facilitated by the pandemic, that we bring our authentic and almost whole self to not just in our own personal life, but also to work. And then also the pandemic gave us really a lot of reasons on so many or from levels to evaluate or reevaluate our life, and then also to bring fun into the fold, so to speak, to be integrated in a meaningful and in a healthy way.
We have all perhaps heard of this term called Toxic positivity, but I think fun does have a place, and I did see that already beginning before the pandemic, but in certain segment of the lodging market, some of those brands, the Hiltons, the Marriots, some of those brands catered to the younger clientele, perhaps they started earlier, but I think the rest of us are now catching up, and even just looking internally, Center for Community Vitality’s annual gathering ... our icebreaker, it is fun. It is an integration of both talking about your professional life and identity, but also talking about, you know, personal and a more fun side of things.
So I just want to echo that we are in a challenging and even strange time, but if there is a silver lining, I think it is also we are trying really hard to collectively to be more wholesome
And I know that we are close to the end of the panel discussion, but just to bring up climate change, and I appreciate that, and it is one of the areas that the bigger Center for Community Vitality is exploring, and so I am curious from both Bryan and Dan if there is anything you would like to add related to climate. It's not just changed any more, I think by now, the conversation also includes mitigation and adaptation, so anything you can share, I think the audience is also curious.
Bryan Anderson: I just know from a transportation perspective, transportation is about a third of the CO2 emissions, so it's really important for our agency to take a hard look at this, then we have been, and we are going to be ... we do have targets and so forth, we're going to start trying to be an example agency as far as purchasing all electric vehicles for state business and so forth.
Unidentified audience attendee: So how about the charging stations? You hear about it anecdotally, if I buy an electric vehicle. I'm going to use it for a trip. You have [charging stations], especially going to rural America?
Bryan Anderson: Right now we already do have charging corridors and so forth, like I-35 as a charging corridor with their stations, and over time and so forth, through the IGH funds that were recently awarded. The State of Minnesota would be putting in a lot more charging stations and expanding those corridors as well.
Unidentified audience attendee: Subsidizing them so they can get done?
Dan Hartman: Correct. Indirectly, this is really impacting the housing here. Duluth is really known as a beautiful, warm place. So a lot of people are moving here from San Francisco and Chicago and southern areas, thinking that this is going to become a warmer destination, and that's legitimately negatively impacted the housing market.
A good friend of mine in town is a realtor in town, and half of the people he's working with right now live outside of the Midwest. And they are coming from California where the housing prices are phenomenally more, and so they're not batting an eye spending 100,000 over the asking price, and so that it was really impacting the housing market, and they don't really live here.
They might come here for a couple of weeks and do some remote work, and so it's a weird scenario that I'm going to guess other places of Minnesota going to deal with the same thing because we're viewed as this escape from climate change. I don't think they really understand what climate change is, but that's fine. Like a narrative story.
My favorite example of this is I used to work for Glensheen Mansion, and the owners are that of the Condon family. In the early 1900s, they bailed on Minnesota for warmer places, and so their family now have multiple generations in other states. They are now moving back to Duluth because of the reasons you brought up and others.
Justin Otsea: And I don't mean to be the doom and gloom climate, it's a scary thing that can easily go to the end all be all. I think it's just more so recognizing it, talking about resilience, talking about planning around it and thinking about it in that way, and ... yeah, to your point, Dan, we're seeing it and there's not going to be a lot more water just coming into Arizona in the next 20 years.
Maybe ingenuity can change things and put those water concerns ... that's a reality, and our whole state has a resource when it comes to natural water, and if you're thinking about in the real long-term view of some of that stuff, you could see major changes depending on what those impacts are. Yeah, I just mean to bring it up in that it does have these tentacles into all these things, and I think it should be a lens that we view things more using platforms like this to bring it up and have those discussions.
We've just kind of been treating it as something that might happen; it's something that is happening and we should be treating it in that mitigation resilience plan for it, and maybe more so buying time and lessening the impact over time, then we're not going to stop it.
Dan Hartman: I didn’t mean to make reference to the climate change getting warmer thing, what I meant by that is the weather here is not necessarily got warmer, it's got more erratic, and so that's why I joke that people are moving to quote-unquote a warmer place or whatever, this is for Duluth where the weather has become so erratic and we've had bigger wave of action, bigger storms that we're now having to create a rapid response network so that we can tell the Twin Cities market, Hey, look. We're still open the next day because we've had five of these bad weather events and people think that Canal Park is under water for two weeks.
There's only like four hours, but now is having to create a system because it used to happen every couple of years now it's like four or five times a year. If you go on the lakewalk, it's like a giant mountain of concrete now, because that thing got destroyed for three years in a row, and so even our shoreline infrastructure is changing because it has to meet this crazy new weather that could be the biggest drought we've ever had followed by the most water we've ever had ... it's been crazy.
Justin Otsea: Yeah, that's a trend warmer and wetter, and that's just going to be spread out. So we’re not trying to get technical, but we're looking at hazard erosion rates along the whole North Shore and re-mapping that with technology from the day, because right now, the hazard zones are built off of a study done in the late 80s, the night and in early 90s, it's Hadron maps and we have GIS computing technology, 30 years.
We're going to look real hard at that and how that impacts development, how that impacts from infrastructure side of things, maybe we should be looking at culverts for that 500-year flood instead of a 100 or 200 year or things like that, and it just trickles in ... I know it kind of gets off for the tourism thing, but it's just they're connected, they're connected, and holistically, we should be thinking about all these kind of systems working together because tourism is part of that economy and just is going to be impacted in some way.
Xinyi Qian: Yeah, thank you all very much and I can’t help but point two things, so one is Duluth has been regarded as a so-called climate refuge, and there has been a report coming out of University of Minnesota Duluth specifically looking at this topic. And then the other point that jotted my memory recently is the Brookings Institute has published an article specifically arguing for incorporating climate change into economic or forecasting into GDP calculation, so on and so forth, they are all connected from climate to a housing to workforce to transportation to child care to healthcare.
And so we are part of a large ecosystem, and in that ecosystem, all these big, almost like a matter issues influence each other, which means that we do have a lot of more work going forward, and we are here. And we look forward to continuing working with you all and carve out the space for the Tourism Center to continue making these positive impacts, and with that, it is officially time to end the panel, and I would say the time did fly by. Thank you are very much Dan, Brian and Justin, for being a panelists. We really appreciate your insights.
Closing (Christy Kallevig): Thank you for listening. Vital Connections on Air is brought to you by the Center for Community Vitality at the University of Minnesota Extension. If you enjoyed this conversation, please be sure to subscribe and leave a to review in your favorite podcast feed. Vital Connections On Air is produced by Greg Siems with a skillful assistance of Elyse Paxton, Jennifer Wagner-Harkonen and Elise Hawkins. You can find the resources mentioned in this episode and many more in our website extension.umn.edu/community-development.
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Reviewed in 2022