A Growth Story: Lutsen Resort vs. Bluefin Bay

A Growth Story: Lutsen Resort vs. Bluefin Bay

How two of the North Shore’s biggest resorts compete in a tight tourism market.

Lutsen Resort and Bluefin Bay are two of the busiest vacation destinations in northern Minnesota. Both are positioned next to Lake Superior and offer spa services, lakeside dining, and active outdoor pursuits.

Even the businesses’ sizes look similar. The Bluefin Bay family of resorts does the most revenue in Cook County. Lutsen’s principal owner, Scott Harrison declined to share his revenue, though he confirmed he takes a close second.

0812-LutVsBlu_fig1a.jpgDennis Rysdahl, owner of Bluefin Bay, explains where the resorts diverge: “Our Surfside property would be more contemporary and high-end than anything they have. And their lodge would be more historic and quaint than anything we have.” Harrison, meanwhile, opts to contrast the clientele: “Dennis tends to get the—” he stops to measure his words—“nouveau riche would be a pejorative term, but that’s what comes to mind. We tend to get a little more casual and a little bit older audience.”

These are not rivals in the strict sense of the word, but more like competitive siblings. This explains why Harrison and Rysdahl partner on community projects designed to grow tourism. The pair helped forge the Cook County Visitors Bureau, a 2-year-old organization with a mission to market the county and create special events for the shoulder seasons of spring and late fall. Next up, they’re working to secure capital funding for upgrades at Lutsen Mountain, which serves both properties. They also have played golf together.

The stakes are high: Tourism comprises 80 percent of Cook County’s economy. “We spend a lot of time together,” confirms Harrison. “We think about how to lift the tide and all the boats riding the tide.”