Outdoor recreation has jumped this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the 20-month closure of the Canada-U.S. Border to non-essential travel has shrunk North Dakota’s tourism industry.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction, is on track to have its best visit since 1978, surpassing 791,000 visitors through October.
North Dakota State Parks had a consecutive record year for nights camping: nearly 95,000 nights in campgrounds and cabins.
Medora Musical recorded its second best attendance in 56 years, just under 124,000 people.
âThe outdoor activities this year were huge,â said director of the state’s tourism division Sara Otte Coleman.
Statistics from last year are still a few months away, “but our third quarter numbers look really strong,” she said.
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Last year, 18.7 million visitors spent $ 2.1 billion in North Dakota, a 32% drop from 2019 spending due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Tourism Economics report .
Through September of this year, visits to North Dakota’s top attractions were up 87% from the same time last year, according to a state marketing update.
“A space for healing”
The national park had increased monthly visits for several months in 2021, including winter, “not traditionally the months of July and August you would think of,” Otte Coleman said.
“It’s a little exciting too, because it shows us that our season is getting longer,” she said.
Many visitors to the park this year “have expressed an interest in taking advantage of the beautiful open spaces that the badlands of North Dakota have to offer,” said Deputy Park Superintendent Maureen McGee-Ballinger. “Just as Theodore Roosevelt found a healing space in the Badlands, so do many of our visitors.”
The park through October had seen 48% more visitors than last year, although the park closed for a few weeks in 2020 due to the pandemic and staff.
The state’s Department of Parks and Recreation “plans to have another busy season in 2022” with the border reopening to non-essential travel last month, spokeswoman Kristin Byram said.
Despite the busy park season, the Fort Lincoln Trolley, which connects Mandan to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park south of the city, has suspended operations in 2021 due to pandemic difficulties and difficulties finding workers.
No Canadians, eh?
Hotel occupancy rates through October were up 21% from a year ago, although hotel occupancy rates statewide did not exceed 2019, according to Otte Coleman.
And the state is still waiting for business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, she said.
Taxable sales and purchases for arts, entertainment and recreation, as well as accommodation and food services, for the first half of 2021 increased by 29% and 24% respectively compared to the same period in 2020, according to the state tax office.
But the coronavirus pandemic still took a toll on tourism this year, in large part because of the closure of the Canada-U.S. Border for more than a year and a half.
Canadians were absent from events and attractions in northern North Dakota, as well as Medora, where owner of Western Edge Books, Artwork, Music, Doug Ellison, said, âWe used to see a lot of Canadian traffic. , mainly to and from the Black Hills.
The Tourism Division estimates that North Dakota lost about $ 259 million in spending by Canadian visitors due to the border closure, according to Otte Coleman.
But attractions like the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, Papa’s Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, and ND Country Fest in New Salem “have had exceptional years,” she said.
Tourism Division website traffic, “our No.1 Intent to Travel Signal,” increased by around 50% last year from 2019 and this year by almost 22% from to record online traffic of 2020, according to Otte Coleman.
Ninety-three percent of that traffic comes from newbies to the site, she said.
âIt tells us that our marketing is working and people are building interestâ¦ and people are taking the next step to find out more,â said Otte Coleman.
Web traffic from Canada has surged in the past two months, she added.
Visits to some states, including Florida, Maine, Pennsylvania and Washington, have doubled this year from 2020, according to a report from the Tourism Division.
The division focused on Illinois, a market with “potential for a large number” of visitors, and recently Denver, due to the population of ex-North Dakotas who have settled there, including much for outdoor recreation, according to Otte Coleman.
Colorado has had a lot more pressure on its exterior, she said. North Dakota’s new marketing campaign increased the Tourism Division’s website traffic from Centennial State by 141%.
âThis (strategy) has really focused on the fact that we still have blank and wide open spaces without crowds,â she said.
Travel and tourism has “such an impact statewide” compared to other industries, Otte Coleman said.
Visitors spend more on restaurants and shops than on accommodation, she said.
“Maybe (some counties only) have a campground, and they’re known for a great fishing lake, or they may just have very limited resources, but they still have traffic and travelers are spending the money. , which helps support these businesses in the community, âshe said.
Contact Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or [email protected]