Summer flood didn’t hurt city tourism, thanks to quick response by Duluth officials

Remember the June flood in Duluth? Roads were washed out, zoo animals died and the seals were swimming in the streets.

Lots of folks canceled hotel and resort reservations, too, thinking that the city was swimming in overflowing stream water. But in reality, the damage was localized and Canal Park, one of the major visitor attractions, was unaffected.

Realizing that public perception could hurt the city’s important tourism industry, though, city officials and the hospitality industry responded quickly with a major marketing campaign to get the word out that Duluth was open for business.

Now it appears the effort worked.

The Duluth News Tribune reports Monday that tourism tax receipts in the city for July, the month after the flood, were up 10 percent over the previous July.

The marketing campaign, kick-started by a $75,000 contribution from the city council, made all the difference, said Karen Pionk, general manager of the Sheraton Duluth Hotel and president of the board of Visit Duluth, the city’s convention bureau.

“The cancellations were just flying in at first,” she told the paper.

Bill DeSanto, chief operating officer for ZMC Hotels Inc., which runs four hotels in Duluth, said:

“It was just terrific, the way community leaders got behind this and jumped all over it.” Without the effort, he said: “We would have lost most of our summer business, and our summers are short enough as it is.”

Even while the hospitality industry was successfully persuading folks to visit the city, officials also managed to get the Legislature to approve $170 million in emergency aid for Duluth and other cities affected by the June 20 flood.

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