The 2022 Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference, held on March 1 at the Sheraton Minneapolis West Hotel, featured both in-person and virtual learning for representatives of tourism organizations, attractions, lodging properties and other entities. The gathering kicked off with remarks by Gov. Tim Walz and Explore Minnesota Director Lauren Bennett McGinty.
“Tourism businesses have faced tremendous challenges throughout the pandemic, yet they have remained steadfast in helping Minnesotans and visitors enjoy the beauty of our state,” Walz said.
“While we don’t anticipate a complete return to pre-pandemic levels until late 2023 or early 2024, we are working our way back and anticipate stronger travel volume in 2022,” added Bennett McGinty. “Minnesota is a unique, four-season destination, and we have a major opportunity moving forward to position the state as a top 10 travel destination.”
The state's tourism businesses are recovering from pandemic impacts at different rates by sector and region. Some sectors, such as business travel, have been slower to recover. However, in response to a recent Minnesota tourism and hospitality industry survey, 39 percent of leisure travel businesses reported they were at or above pre-pandemic business levels and demand for personal travel is expected to remain high in 2022.
U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith also provided remarks, and Adam Sacks with Tourism Economics and Minnesota Gophers Head Football Coach P.J. Fleck were among the keynote speakers.
At the Explore Minnesota Tourism Awards during the conference, several individuals, organizations and tourism businesses were recognized.
- Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, was named Tourism Professional of the Year. Henry has brought major global events to Minnesota as well as served on industry boards and commissions, including the Minnesota Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus and Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. He also has established key alliances with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Canada and the province of Ontario.
- Brady Laudon, assistant director of Visit Bemidji, received the Emerging Leader award. His work has been featured on TV, print, digital and social media, with his weekly fishing report podcast luring nearly 15,000 weekly viewers.
- Dean Beattie, the face of Bemidji's Tourist Information Center for 10 years, was recognized with the Customer Service award. Beattie's love for and dedication to the community resulted in a record number of referrals to businesses.
- In addition, the Tourism Recovery Award went to First Avenue, Minneapolis for leadership and involvement in #SaveOurStages; #OnlyinMN Award to the 5.2-mile Riverbend Skate Path in Warroad (the longest ice-skating trail in the United States); and Marketing Campaign of the Year to Visit Roseville for Roseville in Bloom and Odyssey Resorts with locations along Lake Superior for its digital advertising series, including Road Trip It.
Minnesota Tourism Overview
Tourism is a key sector of the state’s economy, historically generating $1 billion in state sales tax from $16.6 billion in leisure and hospitality sales and employing nearly 275,000 workers in Minnesota's leisure and hospitality businesses.