Nov 8, 2021 - News
Minnesota tries to court Canadian tourists with new marketing blitz
Illustration of a loon holding a red maple leaf in its mouth.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Minnesota is looking to attract visitors from its neighbor to the north with a new marketing push.

Driving the news: Monday marks the U.S.' lifting of COVID-era restrictions on non-essential international travel for vaccinated foreigners, including at Minnesota's border with Canada.

Why it matters: More than 500,000 Canadians visited Minnesota in 2019, according to Tourism Economics data, spending roughly $175 million.

  • A return to those levels could boost the state's beleaguered tourism and hospitality sector, which is still struggling.

By the numbers: Twin Cities hotel occupancy finished September at 50.5%, still down significantly from September 2019, when it was 74%, according to STR.

What's happening: Explore Minnesota is targeting residents of Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, Canada, with billboards, inserts in the local newspaper and ads on social media and Google searches.

  • "We've missed you, dear friend," the full-page print ad reads. "COVID may have closed our borders, but we welcome you back with open arms."
  • Plus: Grand Portage Casino, just seven miles south of the border, is offering drink vouchers, base points and swag for Canadian gamblers starting today.

Between the lines: A boost in leisure trips and more shoppers from Canada and beyond will likely help many businesses, particularly in border communities such as International Falls.

  • But full recovery, especially in the metro, will require a return of business travel and conferences, Hospitality Minnesota's Ben Wogsland noted.
  • Labor shortages and pandemic-induced debt continue to hinder the bounce back, he added.

What they're saying: "Canadians came down to go shopping, they came down to experience our great restaurants and our retailers, our hotels, our resorts, so I think everybody across the state can rejoice in this opening," Explore Minnesota spokesperson Alyssa Hayes said, noting that the closure also kept many family and friends apart.

Of note: It's not just destinations by the border celebrating the change. Roughly 10% of Mall of America visitors are international, the mall estimates, with a "large makeup" coming from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.

  • "MOA visitation continues to rebound and we are confident 2022 will bring continued traffic increase with much pent-up demand for international travel," a MOA spokesperson told Axios.
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