Tourism growth: N.D. second in nation, bucking national trendNorth Dakota was second in the nation in tourism growth over a three-year period, despite the tough economy. The state’s core tourism grew by 10.7 percent from 2006-2008, according to a study conducted by HIS Global Insight and commissioned by North Dakota Tourism. Core tourism includes hotels, entertainment, retail, dining and transportation industries. The study said tourism expenditures grew 5.1 percent, or $2.4 billion.
By: By James R. Johnson, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — North Dakota was second in the nation in tourism growth over a three-year period, despite the tough economy.
The state’s core tourism grew by 10.7 percent from 2006-2008, according to a study conducted by HIS Global Insight and commissioned by North Dakota Tourism. Core tourism includes hotels, entertainment, retail, dining and transportation industries. The study said tourism expenditures grew 5.1 percent, or $2.4 billion.
Sara Otte Coleman, director of North Dakota Tourism, said that during the three-year period, the state was second to Louisiana, which was rebounding from Hurricane Katrina.
“We’re really the only state that’s doing well,” Coleman said.
The study said for the year 2008:
E About $760 million in wages and salaries were generated by travel and tourism.
E Tourism accounted for more than 31,000 jobs, 8.5 percent of the state’s total employment.
E There was a 19 percent increase in spending by domestic overnight visitors.
E Two-thirds of travelers are non-residents; three quarters of North Dakota trips are for leisure.
E If tourism didn’t exist, each household would pay $646 more in taxes.
Through 2007, tourism was sandwiched between agriculture and oil extraction as North Dakota’s second largest economic contributor, raising $3.96 billion in non-resident expenditures.
Gov. John Hoeven told a Monday afternoon news conference in Fargo that the tourism industry is a strong contributor to North Dakota’s positive economic climate.
A report from Statistics Canada said Canadian travel to North Dakota was up 32 percent from 2006-2008. Canadian expenditures grew 86 percent, totaling $273 million in 2008. The North Dakota Tax Department said sales tax refunds to Canadians more than quadrupled.
Border crossings for the three-year period were up 16 percent, but through the third quarter of this year, they are down 20 percent. Coleman said the decrease is more attributable to the Canadian dollar, or “Loonie,” rather than passport regulations that took effect in June.
“We don’t think passports had a dramatic impact,” Coleman said. “We knew Canadians contributed during that period because the exchange rate was about even.”
The loonie was trading just under 95 cents U.S. on Monday.
Record year for parks
Canadians have headed to area state parks in record numbers. For the year, state park visitation is up 21 percent, the study said.
Justin Robinson, manager at Icelandic State Park west of Cavalier, said 52 percent of camping nights have been sold to Canadians during the last two years.
“It’s been since the ’80s when the dollar was at par that Canadians have out camped North Dakotans,” Robinson said. “Small towns and local businesses very much benefit from Canadians who shop locally when they come to camp.”
Canadians make up only 1 percent of campers at Grahams Island State Park on Devils Lake, but the number of anglers from out of state is up 58 percent, according to park manager Henry Duray.
“Lower fuel costs, better weather and excellent fishing have given us our best year since 2006,” Duray said. “Our campgrounds were booked solid and our goal is to expand their number in the future.”
Visitation was up 18 percent in September at Turtle River State Park near Arvilla, where trails are the primary draw. Park manager Steve Crandall said they’re working to create more “education vacations” for young people.
“We’ve started two-week outdoor learning centers here and at Lake Metigoshe and Cross Ranch state parks,” Crandall said. “The concept is to work with schools, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and home schoolers.”
Coleman said venues such as Ralph Engelstad Arena and the Fargodome are among the top attractions in the state. Theodore Roosevelt National Park tops the list with the number of visitors up 17 percent for 2009.
Promoting air service
The data also shows passenger boardings for the 2009 third quarter at North Dakota’s eight commercial airports was up 11 percent compared to the same period last year. To date in 2009, boardings are up six percent from last year.
“It’s kind of nice to be standing out among the crowd at the National Tourism Conference,” Coleman said.
North Dakota nice
North Dakota was listed as most affordable in 2008 by AAA and friendliest by Cambridge University.
Coleman said the future goal of the tourism division is “just to get the word out,” which will include utilizing social media such as Facebook and Twitter. She said technical problems are to blame for a 14 percent drop in page views this year at www.nd tourism.com.
“We need to convince our own people that tourism is a viable industry to the state,” Coleman said.
James R. Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.