Eavesdropping at the DECC

I crashed the tourism conference at the DECC the other day. Ya, I walked right in to the Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference like I belonged there.

Hundreds in the hospitality and tourism industry around the state attended. I arrived as a big luncheon was breaking up and attendees were milling about. I wandered into the breakout session on industry trends and sat down, confident no one would notice — nor care — that I didn’t have a conference name tag. (I stopped short of throwing my name in the hat for prize drawings, however).

Before the session began, the young woman next to me chatted with the man on the other side of her.

Realizing she was a visitor to Duluth who was talking about Duluth, I not only eavesdropped but took notes.

So Radisson Hotel: this one’s for you.

“We’re staying at the Radisson,” she said excitedly. “They have this restaurant on top that goes around. We went there last night for drinks and went back this morning for breakfast. It’s pretty cool.”

Yes, Radisson, you’re revolving “top-of-the-Radisson,” JJ Astor Restaurant is cool. So is your modern-retro lobby furniture fit for a “Mad Men” set.

But back to the conference.

The session panelists included Anna Tanski of Visit Duluth. On the subject of how the tourism industry has changed since 2007, before the economic recession, she said that Duluth is different from a lot of Minnesota because it’s a leisure-driven destination and primarily a weekend one.

Since 2007, investments have been made in local hotels, new restaurants and at Spirit Mountain and other attractions, she noted.

“And we’re seeing now how these type of investments are paying off,” she said.

Another change is with travelers. They’re more savvy, because of the Internet and social media.

“Consumers expectations have increased,” Tanski said. “They can do so much research online. They’re more educated, more informed.”

Corporate travel isn’t a big part of Duluth tourism so the hit that sector took around the country during the recession didn’t hurt Duluth much, she said.

Since 2009, Duluth is seeing more trade shows come to town and room occupancy has increased. In 2013, it was up 13 percent, she said.

And the outlook for 2014?  Even better, she said.