Duluth to consider new tourism marketing partners – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Mayor Roger Reinert made it clear Wednesday that a change of direction may soon be coming to how the city markets itself as a tourist destination.

Duluth currently pays an out-of-town advertising and marketing team $1.8 million a year to advertise the city as a place worth visiting. That team consists of Bellmont Partners, a public relations firm based in Minneapolis, and Lawrence & Schiller, a marketing firm based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

That three-year contract expires at the end of this year, and Reinert announced Wednesday the formation of a 14-member task force to help the city prepare a new request for proposals to consider alternatives.

Reinert said he believes “it’s hard to tell an authentic Duluth story if you’re not a Duluthian.”

“We have a ton of talented and creative people already living in this community,” he said, and expressed his hope “that we will end up in a place where the tourism tax dollars that are generated in Duluth will end up being directed and spent in our country. community as well.”

Karen Pionk, general manager of the Sheraton Duluth hotel, has been tapped to lead what Reinert called a “cross-cutting” task force, with members from several industries, including dining, lodging, major attractions, entertainment, marketing and the arts. .

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Roger Reinert.

Contributed / rogerforduluth.com

“Tourism is my heartbeat,” Pionk said as she accepted her new leadership role, calling the industry “an economic engine.”

Reinert did not rule out a renewed contract with the city’s current marketing team, saying a large pool of candidates is desirable and they would be welcome to respond to the pending request for proposals.

But he also said he would “really have to be sold” on the idea of ​​continuing with the status quo.

Pionk praised the Bellmont team for looking at Duluth’s tourism scene with “fresh eyes,” but said the city has a responsibility to look carefully at other options to ensure the best return on its investment.

“Bellmont has come in and really claimed Duluth as part of their history,” Pionk said. “So I don’t discredit the work they’ve done at all.”

Duluth collects a hospitality surcharge on transactions made at local hotels, restaurants and drinking establishments, with the proceeds of that tax earmarked specifically to support the city’s tourism industry. It’s a lot of money, with collections projected to top $14 million this year.

While these funds must only be used to boost local tourism, due to binding legislation, Reinert said the benefits extend to the community as a whole.

He said tourism has built “the Duluth brand.”

“From the city’s perspective, it’s not just about the (tourism) industry,” Reinert said, noting the quality of local life it brings to the locals as well.

A crowd of people among balloons and a large white tent

Crowds gather for Grandma’s Marathon races at Duluth’s Canal Park on June 17, 2023.

Devlin Epding / File / Duluth Media Group

“It’s an opportunity to retain residents, attract new people and continue to grow our community,” he said.

Visit Duluth’s contract will also expire at the end of the year. This organization will receive $650,000 in 2024 to handle event and convention sales.

Visit Duluth once also played a larger role as a destination marketing organization, but lost that part of its job to the Bellmont team three years ago under Mayor Emily Larson’s administration.

When asked if Visit Duluth could be retooled to handle a wider range of marketing duties again, Reinert replied, “All options are on the table.”

“The direction for the task force has been to think about outcomes first and then think about the means to achieve those outcomes,” he said.

Peter Passi

Peter Passi covers city and county government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter, but has worked a variety of beats over the years.

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