|By Brian Gehring, The Bismarck Tribune,
N.D.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 16, 2009 - The North Dakota Department of Tourism on Thursday released 2009 marketing materials, continuing with the "I am Legendary" theme.
Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman said the department will look to focus on two national studies that show the state to be the most affordable vacation destination -- and the friendliest.
In an annual survey conducted by AAA, Otte Coleman said North Dakota ranked No. 1 as the most affordable vacation spot for the third consecutive year.
Additionally, the University of Cambridge in England, in a six-year study, found North Dakotans to be the most outgoing and friendly people in the nation.
Otte Coleman said in a time when the national economy is experiencing a dramatic downturn, North Dakota is showing signs of improvement.
She said nationally, occupancy rates in hotels and motels are down 4 percent, while the state saw an increase of 3 percent.
Otte Coleman said both business and pleasure travel are considered in the occupancy rate, and the state's energy industry had a big part to play there.
"We really have had a good business year," she said.
Otte Coleman said airline boardings in the state also were up last year, 6 percent.
In recent years, the tourism division has had a regional target for their advertising, mainly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, some in South Dakota, as well as the Manitoba and Saskatchewan markets.
With the changing economic climate and technology, there has been a shift, of sorts, in how travelers plan vacations.
Otte Coleman said last year was the first year more vacationers booked their trips online than though traditional methods.
She said last year there were a half-million new visitors on the state tourism Web site and she expects to send out more than 60,000 "e-blasts," e-mails targeting vacationers looking for specific adventures such as hiking or birding.
Shane Goettle, state commerce commissioner, said 2007 data from North Dakota State University showed that tourism was the second-largest industry in the state, adding $3.8 billion to the state's economy.
Otte Coleman said while some visitor habits and profiles are relatively easy to track, others are not.
For instance, the average age of a vacationer in North Dakota is 44, while 68 percent of visitors to attractions are from out of state.
She said it is difficult to track how many visitors are repeat customers.
She said one of the changing trends is that younger travelers do not tend to vacation with a specific itinerary in mind.
Baby boomers, on the other hand, travel with a definite schedule in mind.
One thing becoming a trend, Otte Coleman says, is that most vacationers are deciding two weeks beforehand as to where their family will vacation.
She said until the economy stabilizes, tourism is in a "deal versus destination" mode.
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