Hotel occupancy rates in Grand Forks this time of year typically are around 50%. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many hotels report rates in the range of 4% to 10%. Some hotels have closed during the pandemic.
Grand Forks is not an anomaly.
Last week, the magazine Twin Cities Business reported hotel occupancy rates of 4.4% for Minneapolis; last year at this time, it was at 70%.
The statistics portend some dismal mathematics. Fewer guests in Minnesota and North Dakota will mean fewer outside dollars coming in as the region begins its recovery from the economic crisis.
And that math is why the Grand Forks City Council should strongly consider giving approval to a request that came this week from the Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB, via Director Julie Rygg, seeks a $150,000 interest-free loan that it would pay back over the course of five years. The CVB gets the bulk of its income on a tax for hotel rooms and, at present, is making various cuts as the pandemic continues.
The organization has faced an uphill climb as Canadian tourism traffic has cooled since the highwater mark of the mid-2010s. According to a Herald report from Monday’s City Council meeting, the CVB planned $1.1 million in expenses in 2020, but cuts have added up to more than $160,000 already.
Continuing cuts at the CVB is troubling, since it likely will hinder the organization’s ability to reach out to potential tourists as the pandemic eases. That’s when Greater Grand Forks – and North Dakota and Minnesota in general – will most need outsiders to help boost business.
Now isn’t the time for massive cuts from tourism budgets because it restricts the future ability to invite those potential guests and the lucrative dollars they bring.
Places like North Dakota must be cognizant of their drawing power as relative normalcy returns.
Analysts are predicting that while the airline industry may be slow to return, the drive-to vacation industry could see a relatively quick rebound.
In a report posted Sunday, CNBC spoke to various travel analysts who said domestic vacations reachable by car could be the hot travel trend later this year or early next.
“We see a much better recovery and occupancy for drive-to destinations,” one said.
And what better place to do it than the Dakotas and Minnesota, where vast, open spaces mean an unending ability to see sites, do things and still steer clear of others?
“We have our wide-open spaces in North Dakota and we think that can be a tremendous draw,” North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer told the Herald this week. “We think this is a great opportunity. (Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman) and her team at tourism, long before the pandemic became part of their lives, had fixated on this idea that you should follow your curiosity and not the crowds.”
But without funding, it’s hard to invite these potential guests, who have been pent up these many weeks and may be seeking an affordable trip to a place that doesn’t have crowds or long lines.