Revamped park hopes to capture travelers

Published 1:36 pm Saturday, June 27, 2009

Amid an economic recession, many Americans are expected to take more locally-based vacations this summer, which is good news for a newly remodeled local park.

Beaver Trails Park in Austin became a national Jellystone Park in April. With Yogi Bear and friends on board the park has already seen about a 20 percent boost in visitors, owner Laura Tolner said, and hopes to see even more customers over the summer, as people are expected to still travel but might stay closer to home to keep costs down.

This idea has been dubbed “staycationing” and is something the Minnesota tourism industry is preparing for, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cheryl Corey said.

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“People are definitely still traveling, and that’s the good news,” she said about the trend.

Still, the economic downturn is having some effect on travel. The U.S. Travel Association is projecting a 2.2 percent decline in travel this summer, and recent survey results from an Explore Minnesota poll show that tourism businesses in the state are generally anticipating a slight decline in occupancy and revenue.

But the forecast isn’t all doom and gloom, according to some industry leaders.

“We are going to see people traveling closer to home, but they still want to get away,” John Edman, director of Explorer Minnesota Tourism, said in a press release.

Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a press release that American travelers are resilient.

“Travelers’ resilience is good news for the travel industry and the entire American economy,” he said. “According to our forecast, Americans will do their part this summer to stimulate the economy, save and create jobs and strengthen communities from coast-to-coast.”

While longer, extravagant trips might be out, shorter, local trips seem to be gaining in popularity, according to national and state surveys. In addition, people across the country and in Minnesota are expected to book trips closer to the departure date, an indication that more people are being cautious about committing to big vacations.

All of the talk about closer-to-home travel is certainly good news to Tolner and her Jellystone Park, the first in Minnesota. While she said they do national advertising through Jellystone, the park still has a good amount of local advertising and draws many of its visitors from about a 90-mile radius.

Tolner said she hasn’t noticed a drop-off in visitors due to the economy yet, but said travelers to her camp may decide to bring a tent instead of an RV, or may be coming from Rochester instead of somewhere farther, like California.

Corey from the Austin CVB said “staycationing” can be a positive for Minnesota, and the state has been marketing itself to attract vacationers who might normally go to Europe of some other distant locale. She added that locally-oriented traveling will help Austin, and said the city is a good destination for travelers.

“We do have a lot to offer here in Austin,” Corey said.