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Boreal Community Media

Tourism Industry suffering across Northern Minnesota and Ontario

Apr 20, 2020 08:57AM ● By Editor

From Boreal Community Media - April 17, 2020

Tourism is a $16 billion dollar industry in Minnesota, and many local economies need it to survive.  John Edman is the director of Explore Minnesota, the state's tourism arm. He told KSTP-TV that because of the 'stay at home order' and health concerns over the coronavirus, Explore Minnesota has pushed the pause button on marketing to tourists.

"It's just not going be the season that we've had in the past, I'm hoping that we can launch a subtle recovery campaign in May and wait and see how much farther we can go to that in June and July," he said.

Many tourism focused events have already been canceled throughout the summer. An example is the Grand Marais's Art Colony, its Art Festival has been canceled this year. It attracts thousands of visitors to the community each year.  Also in Cook County, the Hovland Arts Festival cancelled its annual event normally held over the 4th of July weekend.

In a letter to its website visitors, Visit Cook County writes "In many ways, the North Shore and Gunflint Trail seem like the perfect place to hunker down during a pandemic. Social distancing is a natural element of nearly all the activities that make this a special part of the world. But with limited access to essential resources and services, Cook County is facing unprecedented and unique challenges in protecting community health and safety."

According to the Ely Echo, Ely’s biggest summer event - the Blueberry/Art Festival - won’t take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  An article on the Echo website said, "The Ely Chamber of Commerce pulled the plug on Good Friday and notified members with a late-afternoon email message that sent shockwaves through town and served as a devastating economic blow to a business community already reeling from a month-long, pandemic-related shutdown and statewide stay-at-home orders."  As many as 40,000 people usually pass through Whiteside Park during the three-day festival and the Ely area swells with visitors from around the state and beyond. 

According to Beth Pierce, Iron Range Tourism Board Director, on the Mesabi Iron Range alone, overnight visitors spend more than $65 million per year on lodging, food, transportation, shopping and attractions. "The prospect of that drying up for an extended time is real, and frightening. The hospitality industry supports more than 2,500 jobs in the area - and, before you say it, these aren't "low wage jobs," said Pierce. "These jobs are supporting and helping support families in every community on the Iron Range; the work these folks do is valuable and important. In many cases, hospitality workers represent the face of a region, helping build a good reputation for our towns, and setting the tone for every visitor and newcomer's experience."

Some Great Lakes go-to angling hotspots every spring have become wary of visitors, according to Joe Henry, tourism director for Lake of the Woods, Minnesota.  “We’re entering a very weird time,” he said. “As we speak today the City of Baudette has shut down both public access ramps because they don’t want tourists coming and there are meetings tomorrow about some other river access ramps being shut down. The locals are very concerned about the coronavirus.”

The Forest Service has closed all recreational facilities in the Superior and Chippewa National Forests with no overnight camping or campfires allowed.

Ontario's Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod issued a media statement last week saying the tourism industry has seen a significant hit as a result of the pandemic.  Tourism Minister and Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod say the $75-billion a year sector has already lost nearly $17.5-billion and believes it could get worse.  Parks Canada has cancelled all overnight camping and group activities until May 31.  

"The longer this goes on, the tougher it is going to be on the third-largest economy in the City of Ottawa," MacLeod explains. 

According to Lake Superior News in Northern Ontario, the Fishing and Hunting lodges provide a great many jobs and revenue for the small near by communities.  In an email to its customers on Monday, Thunder Bay based outfitter Wilderness North said they would begin accepting customers 15 days after the U.S./Canadian border is opened again. Last week Canada and the United States reached an agreement to extend the border closure for another 30 days, however Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the closures could last "several more weeks".  Minnesota Governor Tim Walz extended the Stay at Home closure through May 4.

MacLeod also previously announced that the province's tourism development fund has been expanded to include tourism recovery as well. 

Watch a KSTP-TV report on COVID-19 impact on tourism

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