Duluth tourism study examines $10 million investment, coins phrase "Duluth tourism"

Duluth is a tourist destination for Twin Cities residents who don't have the internet.
Duluth is a tourist destination for Twin Cities residents who don't have the internet.

Duluth has spent more than $10 million to promote itself as a tourist destination. Now, a marketing firm has spent a bit more money to see if that did any good.

The results are mixed, according to the newly released study from local consulting firm aimClear. To be fair, aimClear's analysis was aiming, clearly, at a pretty high bar.

Among the questions the study sought to answer was, "Is Duluth, slowly but surely, becoming legendary like The Grand Canyon, Nantucket or Hilton Head as a world-class recreation spot or travel destination?"

Maybe next time, the city could save a bit of dough on the follow-up analysis, and City Pages could just answer that one for free: Emphasis on the "slowly," hold the "surely."

As explained by aimClear, which has since published its results on the firm's blog, the city of Duluth spent "over ten million dollars of tourism tax on convention sales and destination marketing" in the last 10 years. This spending was done through Visit Duluth, the city-funded tourism bureau which explains on its website that a visit to the city will "both relax and rejuvenate you, any time of year."

In order to see Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge, you might have to actually go there.
In order to see Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge, you might have to actually go there.

Duluth has regularly announced year-over-year increases in its tourism revenue. But aimClear's study is meant to look at the city's image, as captured in the bizarre, unpredictable world of online discussion.

Once the aimClear study explains that Facebook and Google are sort of important on this planet, it goes a bit deeper, and finds that the thing that really needs rejuvenation is Duluth's online reputation.

"We found," the study says, "that Duluth's reach, as evidenced by search interest over the last eight years and current social media penetration, has not grown and even declined in some categories."

Ultimately, the study concludes that, $10 million-plus or not, the year-to-year tourism jumps "may not be fully as as result of Visit Duluth's marketing."

Any notion that Duluth is dropping in the online search world because there's just more stuff, and more places to visit listed online doesn't hold up when the study mentions that, of all desolations -- sorry, destinations -- Fargo, North Dakota has increased its online presence as a tourism target.

The study was apparently conducted out of love. Just listen to AimClear CEO Mart Weintraub describe his feelings for his home town to the Duluth News Tribune.

"I've traveled all over the world, and Duluth is as exotic as any place on Earth," Weintraub said of the city he calls home. "It's one of the most beautiful places."

Visit Duluth defends itself to the News Tribune by saying that over 3.5 million (!) people visit each year, spending $750 million. The majority of them, they say, are us city-dwellers, come to reconnect with the land, and water, and people who do not wear ironic T-shirts.

Even still, Duluth hasn't maxed-out its potential on Google searches. Maybe Duluth could release a sex tape? Or, even easier, Duluth could just rename itself "christian ponder fantasy football projection."

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