By Tara Bitzan, Executive Director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
When you ask residents what they love about living in this area, typical responses often refer to the lakes, the trails and the overall abundance of outdoor opportunities.
While we as residents value them and appreciate them, we often make two big mistakes. First, we don’t always value and appreciate them for all the right reasons, and second, we don’t always appreciate all the non-residents who also appreciate them.
Selfishly, which of course is human nature, we appreciate our lakes and trails and outdoor opportunities for what they bring to us personally, whether that be tranquility, beauty, family fun, recreation... But what we often forget to appreciate is what these resources do for our local economy.
They pull in thousands of visitors to our area every year – visitors who spend a lot of money here, which is of great value to each and every one of us who calls this area home.
For locals, it’s easy to get frustrated when traffic increases dramatically during the summer tourism season, or when we have to wait in line at a local retail store or when we can’t get a table at our favorite dining establishment because the tourists are here.
Years ago, I was one of those residents. I felt a bit possessive of our area and didn’t take kindly to all of those tourists getting in the way of our own enjoyment of the area. Luckily I changed my attitude on that, or I certainly wouldn’t be serving as the director of the Chamber of Commerce!
I now realize that the benefits of living in a tourist destination far outweigh the frustrations.
According to Explore Minnesota, in 2016, Douglas County’s gross sales in the leisure and hospitality industry were just under $106 million, and 2,257 people were employed in leisure and hospitality jobs.
It’s estimated that every dollar spent in an area has an economic rollover factor of four times. So every $100 spent here by a visitor has a $400 impact on our economy!
Younger generations are investing more into personal travel and recreation than previous generations did, which would imply that the potential for tourism to grow in our area is great. Statewide, the industry has seen sales at leisure and hospitality businesses growing 50 percent from 2004 to 2016.
Up front, tourism impacts the area’s lodging facilities, retail shopping stores, dining establishments, grocery stores, gas stations and recreational businesses. When someone gets sick (or gets a fishhook in the wrong place!), when a car breaks down, when a cell phone falls into the lake, and all the other unplanned things that could happen, our health care and car repair and many other businesses are impacted.
That means all of the employees who work at any of these businesses are impacted, and it eventually trickles down by those people spending money at other local businesses, and so on.
Next time you slip some money into your wallet, don’t dismiss the fact that that money could have made its way here through a tourist. Then, when you are stuck behind them in traffic, wave and give them a welcoming smile, and hope they come back soon.