Travel and tourism contribute more than $11 billion annually to the Minnesota economy, according to a 2012 report produced by Explore Minnesota Tourism. And for the past quarter-century, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center has helped that industry thrive.
Ingrid Schneider, director of the center, coordinates the work of faculty and extension educators throughout the state’s 87 counties and 800-plus cities. “We provide communities, businesses and individuals with an amazing range of services that help them reach their strategic goals in tourism and travel,” says Schneider.
Some of the center’s services include training programs in customer service, event management and several other areas; research reports with data on visitors, market segments and the impact of tourism; custom research that helps shape long-term economic plans; and a vast collection of publications that enable local groups to make improvements in a cost-effective way.
Here are just a few success stories that illustrate the center’s impact…
Building a better event
Festivals and events do a lot to bring in tourists, enhancing local pride and social capital in the process. The center’s Festival and Event Management program focuses on community event planning, including three seminars that help participants develop efficient event management skills.
The St. Paul Festival Association regularly sends volunteers through this learning program. In addition to training volunteers, the Tourism Center helped the association extend its overall marketing reach by switching to more effective promotional channels.
Expanding cultural awareness
Tourism depends on repeat customers, and the Tourism Center helps businesses build loyalty through its hospitality training programs. Specifically, the center’s At Your Service training explores multicultural issues and is available in both English and Spanish.
More than 8,500 people have participated in this training since 1995 — including representatives from health care, casinos, lodging, education, chambers of commerce, and even tourism groups in Ghana and Japan.
Connecting wine country
Minnesota wineries contribute $40 million annually to the statewide economy both directly and through winery-related tourism. The U of M has helped these wineries collaborate to improve their marketing efforts. For example, the Tourism Center was instrumental in creating the Minnesota Wine Trails.
Based on an idea from one of Schneider’s students, the trails connect the state’s 30 wineries into four driving tour trails and stimulate trade in retail establishments near the tours.
Watch “Ideas at Play”
Check out “Tourism in Minnesota: Ideas at Play,” a regional Emmy award-winning, half-hour special highlighting the role of tourism in the state’s economy. The film is co-produced by Twin Cities Public Television, University of Minnesota Extension and the University of Minnesota Tourism Center. View the film in its entirety or in segments.
Don’t miss the birthday party
To celebrate its 25th anniversary (as well as National Travel and Tourism Week), the Tourism Center is hosting a poster session on May 10 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in St. Paul. While enjoying lunch and cake, attendees will learn how the university’s research, education and outreach has supported Minnesota’s tourism industry. RSVP today.
Post by Vincent Hyman, a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.