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Our view: Experiential tourism best way forward

Herald editorial board

To tell the truth, we don't even want to talk about the following subject for fear of giving free publicity to a plan in Fargo that could hurt Grand Forks. Yes, the Herald is owned by a Fargo company, but it doesn't mean we want people shopping down there.

But, we suppose it's necessary to discuss this as it fully displays the importance of Canadian shoppers, the ongoing efforts by cities in the region to entice them, and also what needs to happen in the future if Grand Forks hopes to convince Canadians to not continue on southward.

The Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau has instituted a new promotion to get more Canadians to visit Fargo. WDAY-TV recently reported on this new initiative, calling it a "huge effort to lure Canadians." Evidently, the campaign will run this month and offer discounts to Canadian shoppers.

All of this is important as Grand Forks businesses work to stay afloat in the wake of the falling Canadian loonie and the closure of Macy's in the Columbia Mall. We doubt Columbia Mall will land another large anchor tenant to replace Macy's, and that could put a dent in the city's retail tourism. A report in Saturday's Herald showed how retail tourism's decline is hurting businesses, with local restaurants showing great revenue dips in the past year.

It's important to note that Grand Forks, too, offers deals for Canadians. The Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, for instance, continuously offers promotions and programs to entice Canadians to our city. These promotions generally involve shopping, hotel and dining packages.

Meanwhile, it's important for Grand Forks to consider expansion of experiential tourism as city leaders and residents ponder what to do with downtown. For example, when a contingent from Grand Forks visited Fort Collins, Colo., in 2015, the North Dakotans found that city expanding its town square.

Why the expansion? Because the previous town square proved smaller than leaders' early hopes and dreams for downtown. It was booked solid for car conventions, concerts and other hands-on events.

Now, Grand Forks is considering tweaks to its downtown, and we think it's a good idea to expand town square in hopes of luring more people to the city. At present, town square is quaint, but it could be, and should be, more than that. It should be a destination for more events—events that have great impact on retail receipts on both sides of the river.

Retail tourism will continue to exist in Grand Forks as Canadians come to take advantage of American hospitality and great prices for products, flights and liquor. They will continue to stop in Grand Forks, but the recent campaign in Fargo shows us other markets are working to get a bigger piece of the Canadian pie.

To thrive in the future, Grand Forks needs more experiential tourism — for instance, more and larger events in a renovated town square, concerts and opportunities to participate in unique Grand Forks experiences, such as the new facility downtown that facilitates canoeing the Red River.

This is the best way forward.

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