Visit Duluth’s Future Uncertain As Mayor Larson Reevaluates City’s Tourism Marketing Vision, Dollars

The city has typically given Visit Duluth $2 million in tourism tax revenue every year.

DULUTH, Minn. – Visit Duluth, the city’s main tourism marketing arm since 1935, could be no more when its contract is up with the city at the end of the year.

This comes after Mayor Emily Larson and her administration opened the job up through a new application process for a one-year contract through 2022.

The “request for qualifications,” as it is being called, follows Mayor Larson’s directive to the boards of Visit Duluth and the DECC to discuss the pros and cons of a possible merger as both were facing severe financial challenges during the pandemic.

In the end, the boards felt it was not the right time to vote on a merger.

Visit Duluth and the DECC receive millions of dollars in tourism tax revenue from the city every year.

Meanwhile, the city has hired Duluth marketing firm Giant Voices to assist in the process of seeking out “a partner or partners” for its destination marketing efforts to not only fill hotel rooms but also bring “innovative marketing strategies and storytelling capabilities to the table” and “elevate the brand of Duluth,” according to the Request for Qualifications document.

Visit Duluth, which is a non-profit organization, will know if it’s a finalist for the job by July 12. Contracts will be awarded at the end of the month.

Except during last year’s pandemic, Duluth’s tourism tax revenue has continued to break records with an annual intake of around $12 million.

Visit Duluth has traditionally received $2 million of that revenue every year to operate, and the DECC has received nearly $4 million a year – but roughly $3 million of that goes to required bond payments to the state for Amsoil Arena.

Mayor Larson declined an on-camera interview at this time for this topic, but she said the application process “aligns with the transparency and accountability” she’s been pushing involving the allocation of tourism tax dollars from hotel, motel, food and beverage taxes.

The see the full document involving the city’s “Request for Qualifications for Tourism Marketing Services,” click here.

Mayor Larson’s full written statement Wednesday to FOX 21:

“We launched a new application and reporting process to increase transparency of public investment and to better track consumer and tourism activity. We did this so that we could have a better understanding of our role and impact on a sector that drives millions of visitors, hundreds of millions of dollars, employs hundreds of residents and helps us maintain year round economic stability.

We began this with attractions and are now moving to apply this same value-driven approach to the marketing and convention side of our public investment. We are now evaluating the request for qualifications (RFQ) submissions and will issue a request for proposals (RFP) to a select number of entities in the coming weeks.

We are confident that this robust and thoughtful process will yield financial value for our public investment and an exciting long term tourism vision for and with the City.”

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