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North Dakota Not All About Oil and Wheat - Tourism is Number Two Industry in State
with Hotels Experiencing 73% Occupany Rates Along with New Hotels on the Horizon

By Christopher Bjorke, The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 10, 2010--For those who thought North Dakota was all about oil and wheat, the Commerce Department ranks tourism as the No. 2 industry in the state.

The Tourism Department unveiled new television ads last week to attract outdoors enthusiasts, Canadian shoppers and hockey fans and people who want to feel adventurous about visiting a place they probably do not know very much about. The department launched a Web site -- www.rulegendary.com -- inviting tourists to share their experiences here.

Whatever is bringing people here, North Dakota's lodging industry has been growing. Construction is starting soon for a La Quinta hotel on State Street in Bismarck. Two new hotels are going up in Fargo, and one each in Williston and Dickinson.

"There's a pretty heavy demand right now," said Rudie Martinson, executive director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association.

Demand in the western part of the state has increased with the growth of the energy industry, which is reflected by a trend toward longer stays, Martinson said.

Aside from those coming to work in the oil industry, visitors are coming for tourism and shopping, which gets a boost every time the U.S. dollar loses ground to the Canadian, attracting bargain hunters from the north of the border.

"When that is favorable to Canadians we get a lot more Canadian travelers," Martinson said.

The new hotel in Bismarck is part of a recent uptick in capacity. The 90-room business complements the Candlewood Suites and the Hampton Inn, both with 88 rooms and off of U.S. 83.

Terry Harzinski, head of the Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau said that the occupancy rate for hotels and motels was at 73 percent in November and reached above 80 percent a number of times last year. In his experience, whenever rates reach those levels "it's not long until you see a new property pop up."

Western trail tour

A Williston hotel is promoting a bus tour through western North Dakota called the Trail of Legends with a route that goes south from there, through Theodore Roosevelt National Park and then through the central part of the state, following the Missouri River. Stops in this area will be the North Dakota Heritage Center, the Washburn Interpretive Center, the Knife River Indian Villages and the Four Bears Casino.

Nicole Ross of the tour said it was aimed at neighboring states as well as more distant ones, such as Colorado. The tour runs from May to September.

(Reach reporter Christopher Bjorke at 250-8261 or chris.bjorke@bismarcktribune.com.)

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.

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