MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With so many people staying at home during the COVID-19 outbreak, the tourism industry across Minnesota is taking a big hit.

Explore Minnesota surveyed 674 businesses. Almost two thirds of them expect at least a 51% drop in revenue and customers over the next month.

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Nearly a third of them expect to get no business at all. For some businesses, that’s by choice.

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The serene views on the banks of Lake Superior bring a sense of calm many people right now could use. But the message from those who typically welcome visitors along the North Shore is to stay away. Kirsten Mohr, owner of Gooseberry Park Cottages and Motel in Two Harbors, is one of those voices.

“Don’t get me wrong, we love our tourists. I mean we can’t survive without them, but you know, I think the time now is to stay home, to stay in place,” Mohr said. “I feel like I have to protect my community and myself.”

That’s why she’s not taking any reservations through April, past Gov. Walz’s recommendation of just March. It already concerns her that tourists were visiting the area last weekend.

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“I know people are coming up here. They might not realize that they’re ill and they’re staying in our cabins, and I’m the one that cleans up after them. So you know, I’m taking a risk,” Mohr said.

Then there’s the lack of food and supplies for the locals. Tourists making a grocery store run wouldn’t help the situation.

“We have one grocery store in Two Harbors,” Mohr said. “The toilet paper’s gone, the eggs are gone, the bread’s gone, the pasta’s gone, our shelves are just wiped out.”

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All lodging in nearby Cook County, which includes Grand Marais, are also not taking reservations through April, according to Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek.

“Truthfully, it is a health care issue,” Jurek said.

She pointed out how North Shore Hospital and Care Center in Grand Marais has limited beds and only one ventilator. Although there’s no confirmed case of COVID-19 in Cook County, she worries about the possibility of a visitor bringing it to town. She said the turnaround on getting test results for the virus is at least two days since the sample has to be sent to the Minnesota Department of Health in St. Paul.

“We’re a small community with a small hospital. So if we’ve reached proportions of Italy or New York here in Cook County, it would be devastating,” Jurek said.

Turning people away is also devastating financially. Tourism dollars from cabins, restaurants and shops make up 85% percent of the county’s economy, according to Jurek. Many people are already out of work since certain businesses have been required to close under the governor’s orders.

“We stand at ready to be able to welcome our guests back when the time is right,” Jurek said.

If there’s any silver lining, April is known as a slower month for tourism in cabin country. But Mohr worries about the outbreak’s impact in May, June and July — months when they bank on visitors.

Further south in Duluth, April is considered the busiest month for conventions and large meetings, according to Visit Duluth Media Communications Manager Maarja Anderson Hewitt. With many of those events cancelled, hotels and restaurants expecting a boost in revenue from visitors are now experiencing the opposite.

Hewitt says Visit Duluth has paused its marketing effort to attract tourists, instead focusing its dollars on ways to support struggling local businesses.

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Jeff Wagner