Get tourism right and you win

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, August 31, 2014

Communities that get tourism right are big winners—taking in local sales tax from visitors which allows local governments to provide better services to residents. Because of the I-90 traffic through Austin and a strong tourism foundation, Vision 2020 chose to focus on attracting visitors as one of our ten vision areas. Known as ‘Gateway to Austin,’ this vision is about leveraging the traffic along I-90 by attracting travelers to stop, stay and spend at Austin attractions, restaurants, retailers and hotels.

Austin is trending positively on tourism as demonstrated during the Austin ArtWorks Festival weekend with several hotels at full occupancy. According to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, visitors were attracted to the variety of arts activities and to two conventions that weekend which brought in over 300 people. Austin also hosted a roller derby match against a team from Virginia, Minnesota which generated overnight stays by the team and fans. Hotels will be booked up again when the National Barrow Show brings in visitors from all over the U.S. in September.

Sometimes local residents are doubtful about what visitors would want to see and do in Austin. A recent data analysis by Movoto shows that Austin ranks number seven among all Minnesota cities for ‘excitement’ as defined by:

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• Nightlife per capita

• Live music venues per capita

•Active life options per capita

•Arts and entertainment per capita

• Fast food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)

• Percentage of restaurants that are not fast food (the higher the better)

• Percentage of young residents ages 18 to 34 (the higher the better) and

• Population density (the higher the better).

Since Movoto’s system uses a per capita ranking, communities of all sizes are on equal footing. How did Austin rank so high?

It might be because of our 60 restaurants and bars—over twenty those are independent and unique to Austin. It might be because of Austin’s 29 parks offering over 400 acres of nature to enjoy. That doesn’t include the more than 500 acres at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. It might be because of the over 15 miles of trail in Austin.

It might be because of live music at the Historic Paramount Theater and Austin Symphony Orchestra. Or the education and fun offered by the Hormel Historic Home, Mower County Historical Society and SPAM Museum. It might be because of the Bruins, Blue Sox and Greyhounds. Or the St. John’s Bible at the Austin Public Library. Or the 20 percent of Austin’s population aged 18-34.

No matter what attracts visitors to Austin, tourism is good for our economy and improves quality of life for everyone. We already enjoy amenities that attract and serve tourists. With the new Spam Museum coming in 2016 and the efforts of the Vision 2020 Gateway to Austin committee, the future is very bright.