Tourism rebound in 2021 providing big boost to rural communities

Some communities seeing triple-digit increases in revenue
grand marais
Posted at 2:05 PM, Aug 09, 2021

GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Tourism is a lot like waves. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s calm and subtle, but sometimes, it crashes over you.

Many of the towns along the shores of Lake Superior are well aware of this. Grand Marais is no different.

“This north shore area is a jewel, it’s a place that we brag about here in Minnesota. The high-class Lake Superior, the inland lakes, the boundary waters, there’s so much to see. So, a lot of folks have come out to reconnect with themselves and nature, and we’ve been really, really busy,” said Rachelle Christianson.

Christianson owns the Skyport Lounge with her husband. It’s a bar, restaurant, boat rental, cabin rental, all in one summer vacation spot.

Christianson and her husband have been through it all during the pandemic.

“I remember that day well, as many business owners do, when we got word from our governor that we needed to shut down and just offer to go food primarily,” said Christianson.

That didn’t last long and Skyport closed its doors for a few months as business came to a halt.

The U.S. lost almost $4.5 trillion in the travel industry in 2020, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. That resulted in the loss of almost 62 million jobs as well.

But travel is rebounding in 2021. The U.S. Travel Association expects spending on travel to rise almost 25% over 2020.

This can be an especially big deal for rural areas that rely on tourism for their economy.

Places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, have seen tourism tax collections rise by nearly 150% since 2020.

“Our economy is primarily a 90% tourism-based economy,” said Kjersti Vick, who works for visit Cook County, the county where Grand Marais is.

She knows how important tourism is for their area.

“Everybody is impacted by tourism in Cook County and so it’s become something that we’re used to. It’s something that was noticed and missed in those months that we were closed," said Vick

While Cook County was able to end 2020 with some strong numbers, Kjersti says one group that was hit particularly hard was musicians.

“It’s brutal. Getting through it, it’s starting to turn around. We lost two venues up here, went out of business,” said Boyd Blomberg.

Blomberg is a musician and was touring around the country last year when the pandemic hit and decided to just stay put in Cook County and wait it out. Almost a year and a half later, he’s still there.

“Booking a European tour in the spring of ’22 and then I’m going to be down south in Texas I think in early October. So, it’s coming back, but it’s been tough,” said Blomberg.

But the community has come together to support each other, even the musicians. Boyd received some funding from different organizations to help live stream local musicians and help them make it through.

That’s just the type of people they are up north.

“That is one thing, the community, that keeps me here. Is just the kindness and the camaraderie, and it is true, these businesses, business owners, folks in the industry, we all get it. We all support each other and understand the climate here,” said Christianson.