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The impact of tourism on the Winona area (05/23/2007)
Over the past decade, travel and tourism in the United States have grown tremendously, and this rapid growth has raised awareness of this industry, especially in the cities and towns known for tourism. Most of us think of destinations such as Florida, California, and Arizona when it comes to domestic travel. Minnesota, much less the town of Winona, may not come to mind when people plan vacations. Yet, as a Midwest vacation spot, Winona is slowly and steadily growing in reputation, and tourism has become a buzz word in terms of social and economic development for our area.

Lodging facilities, meeting facilities, attractions, restaurants, retail stores, and transportation providers are among the local businesses greatly impacted by travel to Winona. In Winona County, the leisure and hospitality industry employed more than 2,000 people, generated $55,577,437 in revenue, and raised $3,635,842 in state sales tax, and touched our community in countless other ways. These 2005 figures are from the Minnesota Department of Revenue and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The leisure and hospitality industry consists of accommodations, food services and drinking places, arts, entertainment, and recreation.

A community tourism industry is essentially a collection of businesses that create the sale of goods and services to tourists. These visitors spend money on businesses that are tourist-oriented (e.g. lodging, attractions) as well as at those primarily oriented to residents (food, recreation, gas). Businesses spend money on supplies, wages, and taxes; the employees in turn, spend tourist-related wages on everyday needs. The money is circulated back into the local community.

When we think of the impact from tourism, we often focus on the economics of income and jobs and on direct sales from tourism. However, a more appropriate assessment should also take into consideration the many businesses that do not interact directly with tourists but sell products and services to those who work in the tourism industry.

Equally important as the economic impact of tourism are the social and cultural impacts. New attractions such as the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the Frozen River Film Festival, Gilmore Creek Summer Theatre, Beethoven Festival, Theatre du Mississippi, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, and the soon-to-open Garvin Heights Vineyards, would not be founded or flourishing in Winona today without a tourism base. Tourism brings about a renewed interest in cultural traditions, increased civic involvement and community pride, upgrades to services and facilities used by residents, and increased communication and understanding between tourists and local residents.

Winona's success as a tourist destination has as much to do with the quality, diversity, and authenticity of visitor experience as it does with what the community shares and communicates with our visitors. Tourism can only work as parts of a whole: the community that provides the "location" or sense of place, the industry that provides the attractions and events that draw the tourists, and the visitors who partake of what we have to offer.

As Visit Winona celebrates its 24th year as a Convention and Visitors Bureau, we encourage everyone to celebrate the role of tourism in our community. Tourism brings new money into the community, helps diversify and stabilize the local economy, attracts additional businesses and services to support the tourism industry, contributes to the state and local tax base, and helps support local businesses that might not survive on resident income alone. In other words, tourism contributes greatly to the quality of life that we enjoy today in historic, island-city Winona.

Pat Mutter is the Executive Director of Visit Winona.



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