Larson Chooses Minneapolis Agency Over ‘Visit Duluth’ For City’s Main Marketing Contract

Visit Duluth is being offered a significantly smaller second contract for "convention and visitor center operations."


DULUTH, Minn. – After 85 years as Duluth’s main tourism marketing arm, Visit Duluth will no longer have that title come 2022, as Mayor Emily Larson continues to scrutinize how millions of dollars in tourism tax revenue is used every year.

Mayor Larson made the announcement Tuesday saying her team has chosen Minneapolis-based Bellmont Partners and its partner, Lawrence & Schiller, to handle Duluth’s advertising and promotional services for a one-year contract worth $1.8 million.

Larson said the company has a proven track record of innovation and stands out among the 28 businesses that applied for the job.

“Choosing a new approach is not about what was lacking in the existing partnerships we had – it’s about what’s possible in elevating our brand, expanding our audiences, engaging new voices from throughout the community, leveraging our investments and using data to get us there,” Mayor Emily Larson said.

Click here for Mayor Larson’s full speech on her tourism announcement 

As part of Larson’s new direction, she is offering Visit Duluth a $400,000 contract to handle convention coordination and visitor center operations.

The two contracts equal the $2.2 million typically set aside annually for Visit Duluth in the past.Bellmont Partners

Visit Duluth did not have any comment as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The city council will vote on the Bellmont contract Aug. 16.

“Helping Duluth elevate its place in the travel industry is a dream assignment for Bellmont Partners and our partner Lawrence & Schiller. As longtime visitors to Duluth, we’re thrilled about the prospect of putting our years of tourism experience to work as the recommended partner for the City of Duluth, and we look forward to presenting our capabilities and vision to the City Council,” said Shelli Lissick, with Bellmont Partners.

The DECC was a finalist for the contract but was ultimately not chosen after Mayor Larson originally asked the DECC and Visit Duluth to merge last year during the pandemic when both entities were facing serious financial struggles.  The two boards voted to not go that route at that time.

Meanwhile, an official online application process opens on the city’s website Wednesday for tourism-related organizations that would like to receive funding in 2022 from hotel, motel, food and beverage taxes.

Outside of the pandemic in 2020, tourism tax revenue has added up to around $12 million a year.  About half of it is pre-committed bond repayments and legislative requirements, along with marketing before the rest is given out to entities that revolve around attracting visitors to Duluth.

Larson says this whole process of overhauling how tourism dollars are being given out and spent started by her about five years ago to be more transparent and accountable with the dollars, and for a better return on investment.

The final piece of that puzzle was announced Tuesday in the form of a new “tourism, arts and culture” position, which will be paid for out of the tourism tax collections.

“[The position] will manage the relationships, outcomes and goals for tourism and the arts in the community. This decision, again, places the city squarely in the conversation of how public investment is used and leveraged across these critical sectors. This position will: run the annual tourism tax allocation requests and reporting processes; serve as the point for all tourism, marketing and attractions; work with the City of Duluth Public Arts Commission and non-city arts entities to advance shared goals, and; increase and fully integrate the impact of our work across these areas,” Larson said.

The position is expected to be posted for applications in the coming months.

We’ll have much more on this story tonight on FOX 21 News at 9.

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