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Last Friday, the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its spring luncheon at Alexandria City Hall and featured a panel discussion on the value of tourism in the region. Panelists included Sara Stadtherr, Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality; Jeff Wild, Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center; and Tami Bredeson, Carlos Creek Winery. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

Local tourism gains from repeat visitors, online reviewsSocial media driving travelers’ decisions

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Tourism is flourishing in Douglas County and there’s proof in the stats from 2013:

● $101 million in gross sales was generated by the local leisure and hospitality industry; and

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● $6.6 million in sales tax was generated from tourism.

During its spring luncheon last Friday, the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce presented a panel discussion about the value of tourism in our region.

Three people with insight into local tourism spoke on the issue and provided their thoughts on the lure of the area and trends in the industry.

Sara Stadtherr, executive director for Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality, provided the local tourism gross sales and sales tax statistics Friday.

She said, for every $1 invested in state tourism marketing, $84 is spent locally by travelers.

“That’s an incredible number and incredible return on investment for us,” she said.

“We have the lakes, but we also have what I consider the bountiful wealth of the fabric of our community… we’ve got a great arts community, historical museum community, the hospitals and health care system, manufacturing, agriculture… so we’ve got a lot of people that are drawn here for one reason or another,” Stadtherr said.

Approximately 82 percent of visitors are returning to the area.

“We get them here once for something and they always want to come back,” Stadtherr said.

Jeff Wild, general manager of Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center agreed.

“We get a lot of people who come for a conference, and enjoy the area, love what they see, come back and buy a cabin for their vacation property or decide this is the community they want to retire in,” he said.

Arrowwood has 150,000 to 200,000 unique visitors per year, Wild said.

“Talk about bringing people to the community – that’s a huge impact. When they’re here, they spend money and that contributes, obviously, to the overall economy and vitality of the community,” he said.

Each year, Carlos Creek Winery tallies about 75,000 visitors.

Tami Bredeson, president and chief executive officer of the winery, explained, “At $75 per person, which is the multiplier used in the wine industry equating to the value of a day-tripper to your winery, we’re looking at $2.5 million in economic value just in those visitors.”

TRENDS

The trend that’s really driving the travel and tourism industry today is social media.

When people are deciding where they’ll go to vacation or have a meeting, Wild said they’re looking for activities and experiences.

“People want to share their experiences with other people and talk about what they did when they were travelling, vacationing or in a meeting. That’s the biggest trend that we see. We’ve got to keep adding to the list of things to do, places to go while they’re here,” he said.

Social media is now the way people find their next vacation destination.

Wild said, “As little as 10 years ago, 1 percent of people booked online and today about 65 to 70 percent of our bookings are online. And they’re researching you first. They’re looking to see what other travelers said about you before they hit the ‘book now’ button. It’s definitely changed the way we have to do business.”

Bredeson agreed. Locals’ online reviews have great influence on visitors.

“That is the currency that people are using. It’s huge because you are intimately knowledgeable about these places,” Bredeson said.

“You can absolutely help the community by leaving a great review when you’ve had a positive experience at a local place. It’s huge what you can do,” she said.

CONSTRUCTION IMPACT

The road construction project under way in downtown Alexandria is expected to impact tourism this summer.

Stadtherr encourages local residents and visitors to stay positive and visit downtown businesses.

Wild said, “We have an incredible downtown and it’s a big reason people come to town. We plan to invite all of our guests that are complaining about it to come back next year when it’s completed and see what a dramatic difference it made and what makes Alexandria so special.”

Bredeson added, “Downtown is a huge benefit to us. We have lots of winery customers that come from downtown or go from us to downtown. [Carlos Creek Winery] survived three years of construction on the [roads] to the winery. We thought for sure we were going down but you survive it. People find their way around.”

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Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.
(320) 763-3133
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