County gives $5,000 toward cost of survey of tourism in Mille Lacs

Just what are the tourists doing when they drive up to the Mille Lacs Lake area, and where are they coming from?

Those are some of the questions that a planned study will try to answer and which is receiving some funding from Mille Lacs County.

The County Board on Dec. 17 approved a request by the county’s development coordinator, Richard Baker, for the county to give $5,000 to match grant money Baker obtained. The county’s help will allow starting on the first six months of a four-season profile of Mille Lacs Lake area visitors.

The county has received a $5,000 grant from the Initiative Foundation and a $10,000 grant from the University of Minnesota Extension’s regional sustainable development partnership  to work on the project, and Baker is working on finding more grants.

Baker informed the board he has a quote of $41,000 from Dr. Xinyi Qian at the U of M Tourism Center to do the whole full-year tourism profile.

Baker mentioned that a second part of the study will be an economic impact analysis at a cost of $4,008. The profile study is to begin in March 2014 and run through August.

The results from the studies can be used to further economic planning for tourism in Mille Lacs, help streamline marketing efforts and provide much needed data for future grant applications, Baker told the board.


Tough spring for Mille Lacs businesses

It was a tough spring this year for businesses that derive their income from activities related to Mille Lacs Lake, Baker pointed out in a memo.

Everyone knows that weather was a big factor, with spring conditions delayed significantly, leaving the air colder and the ice on lakes longer. Baker didn’t know how much the tighter slot and keeper limits for walleyes on Mille Lacs this year over last year might have had an effect as well. The Department of Natural Resources tightened the regulations for taking walleyes from Mille Lacs because of lower numbers of walleyes in the lake.

Baker’s memo reviewed an August study by Explore Minnesota and the Mille Lacs Area Tourism Council showing that a majority of the Mille Lacs area businesses reported their activity down in the 2013 season. According to the report, 72 percent reported occupancy down and 60 percent reported revenue down.

Despite their recent hardships, the majority of respondents rated their current business health positively  – either growing (16 percent of respondents) or stable but positive (41 percent). However, 25 percent reported their business financial health stable but negative and 19 percent said their business health is declining, Baker noted. The respondents are businesses located within 5 miles of the shore of Mille Lacs Lake.

“Before we can begin to develop other tourism amenities, attract other tourism businesses to the area or streamline our marketing efforts versus the shotgun approach, we need to understand our visitors to the area,” Baker said.