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Study shows Bemidji has loyal, consistent visitors

BEMIDJI—When people book trips to stay in Bemidji, chances are they'll be Baby Boomers or from Generation X.

This is according to a new study from the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, which found the age brackets of 36-52 and 54-72 produce the most frequent visitors to the First City on the Mississippi. The study, requested by Visit Bemidji, started in the winter months of 2017 and collected data from every season through fall 2018.

In total, the U of M collected information from 2,821 respondents, with 35 percent being Baby Boomers (ages 54-72) and 33.2 percent from Generation X (ages 36-52). Seasonally there was some differences, though, with Generation X the most identified age bracket in winter and spring, while Baby Boomers represented more in summer and fall.

At a presentation at the Visit Bemidji Board meeting Wednesday, Dr. Dan Erkkila from the Tourism Center also noted Millennials (ages 21-37) factoring into the equation.

"They're an emerging population and they were coming in third in those cases," Erkkila said. "For their travel statistics, they tend to be very sharing, so they do a lot of Airbnb and ride sharing with companies like Lyft. They're also very activity oriented, biking and trails are huge."

While age brackets varied, the study did find consistency in several factors. The primary residence was Minnesota for 70.5 percent of all respondents, with North Dakota in second with 13.1 percent.

Annual income was also consistent, with the majority of respondents reporting between $50,000 and $70,000. Trip purpose, meanwhile, was mostly consistent. Outside of winter with sporting events, all other months had the majority of respondents traveling to Bemidji to visit family and friends.

The average size of groups traveling to Bemidji, the study found, is four, and visitors will usually stay an average of 3.4 nights. Those who come to the area usually make more than one trip, too, with the majority of respondents stating they've made 3.1 visits within the past 12 months.

"I was thrilled to see the number of repeat visits throughout a year's period of time," Visit Bemidji Executive Director Susan Goudge said. "It varied each quarter, but the final numbers showed at least three visits per person. It shows when people come to Bemidji, they fall in love with it and want to come back again."

The finished study also gave Visit Bemidji officials insight into how much travelers usually spend. On average, a visitor was estimated to spend $164.20 per day in winter, $114.04 in spring, $151.02 in summer and $167.49 in fall. In all, the study found average daily spending for a visitor to come in at $149.29.

"I think the takeaway is tourism plays a big part in the economy," Erkkila told the Pioneer. "Tourism's impact on business is significant, even if it's not directly related. A person might be visiting and have to take their car into a shop. Is that tourism related activity? Not necessarily, but it impacts all of the economy."

Because there's so much raw data to unpack, the Visit Bemidji Board came to a consensus to organize a retreat for a full analysis.

"It's been a long time coming, since it went through these four quarters to give us a full year," Goudge told the Pioneer. "This is just the beginning for us. So, we're going to develop a retreat for the Visit Bemidji Board to take the results and get a full review. It will be an ideal project for the new executive director."

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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