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Craig McEwen, Published November 24 2009

North Dakota tourism growth tops nation's

Tourism growth scored better in North Dakota from 2006-08 than it did nationally.

Core tourism grew 10.7 percent, compared to 8.1 percent national growth during that period, according to a study by IHS Global Insight, commissioned by North Dakota Tourism.

Visitor spending grew 11.5 percent from 2006-08, compared to 2.1 percent nationally, Shane Norton of IHS said.

Visits to North Dakota grew more than 2.5 percent, while declining 2.6 percent nationally, he said.

“Nationally, in the tourism industry, we’re seeing fewer and fewer people traveling, but that’s not the case in North Dakota,” he said.

A key factor for North Dakota’s tourism numbers was 32 percent growth in Canadian visitors during the study period.

“That’s 1.5 million trips into North Dakota,” said Shane Goettle, state commerce commissioner.

With the exception of Canada, the most dramatic fall-off in tourism spending and visitation is in the international sector, Norton said.

The Canadian market is a significant source market for North Dakota. “So we feel that the state of North Dakota will be well insulated from the decline in international travel,” Norton said.

What’s driving the state’s tourism growth?

“We feel a lot of it has to do with we have the right message for the right markets at the right time,” said state Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman.

North Dakota launched its “Legendary” brand eight years ago, focusing on the state’s history, Goettle said.

“We’ve been very consistent in using this brand to market our state outside of our borders,” he said.

Every county in the state has participated in tourism growth, Goettle said.

Five counties – Cass, Burleigh, Grand Forks, Ward and Richland – make up 51 percent of tourism spending, he said.

North Dakota tourism generated $3.96 billion in revenues in 2007, compared to $3.35 billion by the state’s oil industry, Gov. John Hoeven said.

“So you can see that tourism is a very important industry for North Dakota,” he said.

More than 31,000 people are employed in the tourism industry in North Dakota, with wages totaling more than $760 million a year, Hoeven said.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502