How Duluth Works to Attract International Tourists to the City

DULUTH, Minn. — When you drive through Duluth in the thick of tourism season, you may see license plates from all over the country, but the city is also a big draw for international tourists.

One person who often meets international tourists is Barb Lemasurier, who owns the gift shop inside the Maritime Museum in Canal Park.

She brought in a map of the United States, and would add a mark to all the states tourists were visiting from.

“We chit chat with people as they come in and we love to ask them where they’re from, and we started to put up a map to document where people were from, and we started out with the United States,” Lemasurier explained. “Filled it up in three weeks, couldn’t believe the toughest state to get was Idaho, but we finally got an Idaho and by saying that, I think we said ‘we haven’t gotten an Idaho yet! We finally got an Idaho.”

American tourists come into the shop from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska, or just a couple hours south down I-35, like Curtis and Kris Crouse from Oakdale, MN.

“Celebrating my 60th birthday and our 21st wedding anniversary,” Kris Crouse said.

This past spring, Lemasurier realized she needed a world map instead, as she started meeting international tourists from countries such as Fiji and Madagascar.

She now has a pin in each country international tourists visit from.

“What we find interesting is people like to pin it themselves, and they like to find their country and talk amongst themselves and find the right place where the country is on the map, and they take a lot of pride on where they live,” Lemasurier said. “Many of the countries I’d never heard of and I consider myself pretty smart.”

International tourists are often drawn to Duluth because of the colleges and universities in the region.

Mother-daughter duo Micheline Rannou and Sophie Kurucz from Ontario, Canada spent time in Duluth after Sophie graduated from Lakehead University with a master’s degree.

“She told me to come here because we’re celebrating her master’s degree in geology,” Rannou said. “She told me about Duluth, always want to come as well to see it…and now I’m really glad she took me down here to see all the things there is to see and enjoy.”

Lemasurier’s gift shop isn’t the only place in Duluth with a world map and pins keeping track of international visitors.

Over at the Visit Duluth office, pins on a world map reflect the many travel writers and social media influencers who have visited the Northland.

“Germany, U.K., Netherlands, Italy, China, Sweden, those are kind of the big ones in the past two years,” Maarja Anderson Hewitt, communications manager at Visit Duluth, said.

When writers and social media personalities do visit Duluth, Anderson Hewitt helps plan some of their Northland adventures which promotes the city to a worldwide audience.

“We hosted a freelance journalist Carlo Ferrari from Italy, and he focused on biking, so he did a whole, I think it was 18 days he came to Minnesota and did a biking tour and so they spent a day-and-a-half in Duluth, they did a mountain biking tour and kind of focused on the paved trails like The Lakewalk….so that’s three publications out of one trip so that’s always very exciting to see,” Anderson Hewitt said. “We also had a film crew come from Stockholm, Sweden and they did three videos. They highlighted the Mall of America, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then Duluth so we kind of focused on our outdoor adventure what you can find in Duluth, the trails, the kayaking, really the year round fun.”

Visit Duluth CEO and president Anna Tanski explained that international tourists still often look to travel agents and print publications, like magazines, to help them choose their next getaway, so those are the avenues Visit Duluth pursues.

Tanski added that international tourists don’t just visit to experience the scenery.

“International travelers, especially in Germany and the U.K. are keenly interested in the history of Bob Dylan and his ties to our beautiful city and his hometown,” Tanski said. “They’re also really intrigued with Native American culture and history and how deeply rooted that is within, not just in Duluth, but our entire region.”

Visit Duluth partners with other tourism hubs as well such as Great Lakes USA, which markets longer trips for international tourists to visit the Midwest.

With that collaboration, Duluth becomes a stop for international travelers as part of a larger tour of the Midwest for usually several weeks.

“They are typically in the U.S. for an extended period of time, and we know through research that travelers to the Great Lakes typically are seasoned travelers who have maybe been to the U.S. three, four, or five times previously, and now they’re looking for a different U.S. destination,” Tanski said. “That’s where the Great Lakes comes in, and we really have capitalized on the fact that we are stronger together as a region.”

The fact that many international tourists fly thousands of miles to spend time in Duluth reminds people like Barb Lemasurier of how beautiful the city is, and she said she’s grateful when she gets to be a small part of their Minnesota experience.

“I think the most important thing about this isn’t about us and isn’t about asking these people where they’re from, but it’s really the fact that all of these visitors come here and they love it, and they’re here to see Duluth and to see the lake, and aren’t we lucky?” Lemasurier said.

Anna Tanski said that 2019 has been a strong tourist season so far, except for the polar vortex period last winter.

She expects international tourism to continue to grow in 2020.

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