MN, SD, WI Battle for Summer Vacation Dollars

Ads are the chief weapons in the tourism war, and because Minnesota’s marketing budget is tight, “the dollars we put in have to work harder,” says Ryan Olson, an account director at Colle+McVoy, the Minneapolis advertising agency that handles Minnesota’s tourism account.

With tourism season in full swing, Minnesota is engaging in a serious battle with nearby states over residents’ summer vacation dollars.

The state’s biggest competitors: South Dakota and Wisconsin.

In terms of the three-way marketing battle, Minnesota is seriously outgunned. In the fiscal year that begins in July, Wisconsin’s state tourism office budget will be $12.5 million; South Dakota’s will be $11.7 million; and Minnesota’s will be just $8.4 million.

Twin Cities Business took an in-depth look at the tourism war in its June cover story, “The Fight for Fun.” While it remains to be seen which state will win the war, one thing is very clear: Minnesota has a lot at stake when it comes to vacation territory. According to the state, tourism translates to about 235,000 Minnesota jobs—11 percent of the state’s total private-sector employment. And the tourism sector generated $732 million in sales taxes last year, about 17 percent of the state’s total sales tax revenue.

Ads are the chief weapons in the tourism war, and because Minnesota’s marketing budget is tight, “the dollars we put in have to work harder,” says Ryan Olson, an account director at Colle+McVoy, the Minneapolis advertising agency that handles Minnesota’s tourism account.

Last spring, Explore Minnesota—the state’s publicly funded tourism office—launched its “More to Explore” TV commercial, and it will air again as this year’s summer tourism marketing season gets underway. The ad features Twins catcher Joe Mauer demonstrating why he pursued a career in baseball rather than singing—and it won the U.S. Travel Association’s 2011 Mercury Award for the best state tourism ad broadcast in the country.

The commercial’s insider feel is no accident: Forty percent of Minnesota’s tourism marketing budget is aimed at in-state residents, says Explore Minnesota director John Edman. In addition to the TV commercial, Minnesota will be promoted as a tourist attraction through a series of radio spots featuring local and regional bands.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, last year adopted a new theme for its tourism advertising: fun. Research commissioned by the state’s tourism department revealed that “fun” is the number-one motivation for leisure travel, outranking “rest and relaxation” and “friends and family.” Two new 30-second TV ads that debuted this spring focus on that theme. In one, for example, three 30-something guys go zip-lining, golfing, and go-karting. In the other, a family goes fishing, boating, and bicycling.

Wisconsin’s ads are also sprinkled with celebrities, like native Tony Shalhoub, who starred in the cable-TV series Monk, and Henry Winkler, who’s best known for his role as Fonzie on the 1970s sitcom Happy Days.

This summer, look for Wisconsin tourism ads in the Minneapolis skyway system and on light-rail trains.

South Dakota, by contrast, is using a marketing campaign called “Take Me Hunting.” The “me” in that slogan is the hunter’s canine comrade, and South Dakota’s tourism department credits the campaign for the fact that sales of nonresident small-game licenses saw only about a 5 percent year-over-year decline to 97,000 in 2011, despite a dramatic and well-publicized 46 percent drop in the pheasant population. Almost 25,000 of those nonresident licenses were sold to Minnesotans.

Aside from in-state travelers, Minnesota is South Dakota’s chief source of vacationers—and about 15 percent of South Dakota tourism department’s marketing budget is aimed at Minnesota. James Hagen, secretary of South Dakota’s department of tourism, points out that in order to get to the famous tourism attractions in the western portion of the state (Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and historic Deadwood), Minnesotans have to travel all the way across it.

A new TV campaign called “Your American Journey” made its debut this spring and features 30- and 60-second commercials that use video footage of state attractions shot from a helicopter by high-definition cameras. All versions of the spots feature Mount Rushmore.