Greater Grand Forks hospitality industry optimistic 2023 will see full return to normal
Though the number of Canadians crossing into the U.S. at the Pembina border isn’t quite where it was in 2019, the number is on the rise.
GRAND FORKS – Nearly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, those in Greater Grand Forks' hospitality industry are looking forward to a return to normal in 2023.
Ashok “Smiley” Thakker, owner of Grand Forks’ Ramada Inn, Days Inn and Rodeway Inn, said the number of people staying in all three hotels increased throughout last year.
“2022 was a lot better than (the) last few years and I’m expecting 2023 to be better than 2022,” he said.
Just a week into 2023, Thakker said the Ramada Inn already has received calls from companies and people wanting to reserve rooms into this year.
According to Julie Rygg, executive director of Visit Greater Grand Forks, hotel occupancy rates in the region are showing signs of hope. In November, the latest month that numbers are available, the occupancy rate was at 49.7%. That’s compared to a 45.9% occupancy rate in November of 2021, 37.6% in 2020 and 56.3% in 2019.
The year-to-date occupancy rate for hotels in the region for 2022 is 55.5%, which is close to the 58.4% occupancy rate in 2019.
Rygg bases those numbers off of hotels that voluntarily report their occupancy rates to STR Global, a company that provides analytics and benchmarking for insight into the hospitality industry.
In Greater Grand Forks, Canadian traffic plays a big role in tourism, and that number is rising, too.
Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics show the number of personal vehicle passengers entering the U.S. at Pembina was 30,632 in November. That’s nearly 12,000 fewer than the 42,373 personal vehicle passengers crossing the Pembina Border in November 2019. However, it’s 28,961 more than the same month in 2020 and 19,455 more than 2021.
Data for December 2022 isn’t yet available.
Rygg said she is “very optimistic” for 2023 and for those numbers to continue increasing, since there are fewer restrictions at the border.
On April 1, 2022, Canada dropped testing requirements for vaccinated travelers entering the country and on Oct. 1, Canada dropped all testing and vaccination requirements for entry. The U.S. requires non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants entering the U.S. to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Thakker also is hopeful. He said many Canadians stayed at his hotels last year and he expects those numbers to be higher in 2023.
“Last year was amazing. We got a lot of Canadian guests at all my hotels and this year I’m expecting more because there’s no restrictions,” he said. “People are tired of sitting at home now.”
Collections from the 0.25% sales tax added to Grand Forks restaurants and bar transactions as well as the 0.25% sales tax and 3% lodging tax for hotels also increased in 2022. The collections from food, beverage and lodging throughout 2022 came in at $600,898.48, compared to the $489,343.34 collected in 2020.
Collections from the lodging tax go to Visit Greater Grand Forks, to be used for its tourism and promotional activity. Since the amount being collected from the lodging tax throughout the pandemic came in lower, Rygg said the organization scaled back on some of the advertising efforts.
Coming out of the pandemic Rygg said the organization is getting back on track.
“Now we are increasing our advertising back to normal again, expanding our sales efforts and putting additional funds back into the event funding program and into our complimentary services program, so we’re able to get back to where we were pre-pandemic,” she said.
Events planned for 2023 will attract tourists, Rygg believes.
According to Thakker, another drawing point for visitors to the city is new development, including the Career Impact Academy, which is set to be built across the street from the Ramada. He also noted the Center for Exploration (also referred to as a children’s museum) and the proposed industrial development of a wet corn mill and soybean crush facility on the northern end of the city.
“Those plants and projects will make this town very busy (for) restaurants, hotels, shopping,” he said.