Visit Duluth Furloughs Six Employees, As Summer Tourism Remains Uncertain

Six out of the 11 employees were temporarily furloughed.

DULUTH, Minn.- Six employees have been temporarily furloughed at Visit Duluth, the tourism bureau tasked with marketing the city to outsiders.

“We are at a point now where it was the harsh reality of what we’re facing in our industry,” said President Anna Tanski. “We have the resources and took these steps to stretch our operation at least through the summer based on the current staffing level.”

Visit Duluth is funded through the City of Duluth’s Tourism Tax, $6-$9 million of which is lost from the City’s budget due to the pandemic — out of a total projected budget shortfall up to $38 million.

“We’ll really start to feel it with the absence of Grandma’s Marathon as the unofficial kickoff to our summer visitors season,” Tanski said.

Businesses in the tourist-driven Canal Park are feeling it now.

“Even a lot of the conventions that come to the DECC bring a lot of people to town and then a lot of the businesses and the restaurants, we depend on that foot traffic,” said Nate Smith, Assistant Manager at Spirit Bay Trading Co.

Smith’s father, the owner of the shop which sells hand-crafted gift items made by over 30 native artists, is closing June 25th.

“With so much unknown I think that was a big consider, factor in him considering whether to re-lease for another 5 years,” Smith said. “Retirement and the certainty with that is a lot more attractive I think.”

But for some other businesses, the loss of Grandma’s Marathon which brings thousands of runners to the Northland won’t have a huge impact.

Glass blowing demonstrations along the sidewalk are what draws many to Lake Superior Art Glass.

“The day of [Grandma’s], so much is going on out on the streets there that we typically have a slower day than an average Saturday on Grandma’s Saturday,” said Dan Neff, owner and artist at Lake Superior Art Glass.

“So I would expect it to be probably on par with maybe a normal Grandma’s Marathon weekend which is usually a little down for us compared to most weekends,” he said.

And a less busy Canal Park could mean more Duluth locals spending their day there and supporting the area.

“Most Duluthians don’t frequent Canal Park in the summer time so now is an awesome opportunity to get down here and soak it up while we have the chance,” Neff said.

Visit Duluth has just been approved for a federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan of $150,000, which should be implemented in the next few weeks. After that, Tanski said they will re-evaluate things.

“We are seeing signs of hope and improvement week over week. We do see hotel occupancy numbers are beginning to improve,” said Tanski.

Despite less big events, tourists are still taking advantage of what else the city has to offer.

“We’re at a great hotel over the night on Canal Park and see the ships coming in and the kids love it and we go to Park Point during the day and the great shops at night,” said the Kuarberg family, taking their annual trip.

Visit Duluth is shifting to highlight more of the area’s natural beauty, using social media and digital billboards purchased before the pandemic.

That, said Tanski, will have to be the hope the tourism industry clings to for the foreseeable future.

“It’s hard to put a silver lining on this but at the same time we are going to really rely heavily on all of our natural attributes that will help us sell Duluth,” she said.

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