MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Tourism is one of the industries most affected by the pandemic, as less people traveled and explored big cities. The Twin Cities were not immune to this loss.

Back in November, our hotels on average were only 44% full, according to STR, a group that does data and analytics insights for the global hospitality industry. Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism group, says it isn’t exactly sure why Minnesota is seeing the lowest hotel occupancy rates in the country. But they say being a state with extremely cold temperatures and tight COVID-19 restrictions on masking and dining in the Twin Cities certainly play a role.

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“Hotels are really working with local conferences or events to try to bring people in and offer unique experiences for them,” Lauren Bennett McGinty, Explore Minnesota’s executive director, said. “I think it’s just an opportunity to try something new, and even more so I think hotels are just saying, ‘We’re clean, we’re safe, we’re ready for you when you’re ready to travel,’ and I think that that’s a really great hospitality tactic to bring people in when they might be unsure about what they’re going to expect.”

Explore Minnesota said that between January 2020 and October 2021, the pandemic caused $11.4 billion in travel spending losses in Minnesota. Bennett McGinty started in November and was brought in specifically to help turn tourism around.

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She said there are lot of things that have already happened and are in the works to bring back people to the Twin Cities and to fill up hotels again. Many of you probably remember the state’s slogan during the 2018 Super Bowl — “Bold North.” Well now, Explore MN is hoping to turn tourism around in 2022 with the slogan, “Bigger and Bolder.”

“Obviously we just had the Winter Classic a few weeks ago, which was really exciting,” she said. “Coming up we have the women’s NCAA Final Four coming to Minneapolis. We have the 2022 MLS All-Star Game coming to Allianz Field. Mall of America is celebrating 30 years, which is very exciting. And then of course we’re seeing some airport routes come back. Ninety percent of domestic travel is coming back and 66% of international routes and then they anticipate even more this spring.”

Bennett McGinty said the rapid spread of the Omicron variant is certainly a threat to upcoming events, but she said they’re working with everyone involved to make sure they’re prepared for any last minute changes to these events if needed.

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While the cities suffered the largest tourism loss in the state, Explore Minnesota says the northern part of the state did really well in the pandemic. More people were escaping to cabin country and the north shore, as well as looking for drivable adventures for the day or weekend.

Marielle Mohs