- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - As North Dakota grows, the state hopes tourism opportunities grow with it.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce Tourism Division will encourage the development of new tourism products at its Travel Industry Conference in Fargo, April 14-16.

Tourism is the third-largest industry in the state’s economic base, following agriculture and oil, said Heather LeMoine, marketing manager for North Dakota Tourism.

As more people have started coming to the state, North Dakota has adapted its tourism offerings, Tourism Development Manager Dean Ihla said.

Pat Geiger, office manager at Huff Hills Ski Area, said she saw more new faces at the ski area this winter than in previous years. Some said they were working in the oil patch and looking for things to do on days off. Some were families with young children.

“There’s some new transplants into the area,” she told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/QFKWYc).

Geiger said the ski area has talked about doing more marketing to the west because Dickinson is only 90 miles away, but hasn’t done it yet. She said the ski area is mostly known through word of mouth and social media.

Geiger also drives the Fort Lincoln Trolley during the summer months and last year was an exceptionally busy summer, she said. There were some weeks that two trolleys had to be run and she expects the same again this year.

Places to stay are becoming more abundant. During 2011, with a flood of both water and workers, lodging was tight in western North Dakota. Since then, more than 5,000 hotel rooms have been added across the state.

Because those rooms were constructed with a price point in mind, the rates have not gone down. Occupancy has, though, and it is more in line with the rest of the nation.

There are still more than 50 projects to be built across the state through 2016.

A Cobblestone Inn, which targets more medium-size towns, is considering building in Steele. Larger chain hotels, like Microtel and Mainstay Suites, are locating in Stanley. Ihla said more hotel growth also is hitting eastern North Dakota.

“Can North Dakota absorb another 5,000 rooms? We don’t know,” he said.

What the state has seen an increase in - and could use more of - is recreational rental providers, like canoe and kayak rentals and all-terrain-vehicle trails, Ihla said.

“That’s an area that we definitely need more people to consider looking into,” he said.

Ihla said there are always opportunities for those types of businesses along Lake Sakakawea. More are opening around Devils Lake since flooding fears have subsided.

Ranch vacations are another popular tourism product, Ihla said. New ones have opened but others have retired.

As part of the conference, a stand-up paddle board business owner and the owner of Coteau des Prairies Lodge will talk about how they market their businesses and events they host.

Ihla said Coteau des Prairies is a large 10-bedroom lodge near Havana that proves a successful tourism destination can be off the beaten path.

New to the conference will be a panel of speakers on historical sites and museums, LeMoine said. The panel will answer questions posed by curators of smaller city- and county-level museums about how to get people through the doors, how to get them to come back and how to keep exhibits engaging.

Emmons County Museum historian Sue Sandwick said most visitors to the county’s museum are former residents coming back for a visit.

Sandwick said the county joined the Tri-County Tourism Alliance to promote things to do in the area, like the museum. She also tries to spread word of the museum to people she meets on the street who are new to the area, encouraging them to come learn about the history of their new hometown.

Based on a 2012 survey of visitors, museums rank as one of the top visitor experiences in North Dakota.

Ihla said North Dakota continues to see positive visitor numbers but new residents offer another market to tourism entities.

“We want to make sure people who come here for jobs become permanent residents,” Ihla said, adding the way to do that is to offer more things to see and do.

LeMoine said the tourism division has started to get more requests for marketing to new residents. For example, the Garrison Convention and Visitors Bureau requested posters for its Dickens Village Festival be hung in man camps.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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