Jan 4, 2022 - Business

Lauren Bennett McGinty's job is to revive Minnesota tourism

Lauren Bennett McGinty

Lauren Bennett McGinty. Photo courtsey of Explore Minnesota

COVID-19 has dealt a multi-billion-dollar blow to Minnesota's tourism industry. It's the job of Explore Minnesota Tourism's new director to repair it.

Driving the news: In November, Gov. Tim Walz appointed Lauren Bennett McGinty to replace John Edman, who had led the agency for 21 years.

  • Bennett McGinty most recently served as executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.

Why it matters: Between January 2020 and October 2021, the pandemic caused $11.4 billion in travel spending losses in Minnesota, which had a $16 billion annual tourism industry in 2019, according to Explore Minnesota.

Between the lines: There's a big geographic disparity in the suffering. Greater Minnesota's resort industry, after a tumultuous start to the pandemic, has enjoyed high occupancy numbers as people from cities flee to drivable destinations where they can be outdoors.

  • But the Twin Cities metro's tourism economy has been devastated by a loss of sporting events, concerts, festivals and corporate travel.
  • In November, the Twin Cities had the lowest hotel occupancy for a top 25 metro, with just 44% of rooms filled, according to STR Global, a hospitality benchmarking firm.

What she's saying: Bennett McGinty said business travel is starting to bounce back, conferences are booking again and large events like the NCAA Women's Final Four and the MLS All-Star Game are coming to town.

  • "Looking at the metro area, it certainly has been a challenge and I think the biggest piece is ... having conversations with the hospitality industry and figuring out where some of those gaps are and trying to do our best to provide marketing grants to those areas, as well as other parts of the state."

Yes, but: The Omicron variant could threaten the metro's progress if it leads to cancelations and the curtailing of corporate travel.

What's ahead: Explore Minnesota will be doing niche marketing in 2022 to promote the state's burgeoning mountain biking trails, as well as the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.

  • Both of those areas have received a dark sky designation for stargazing.

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