COVID crisis affecting tourism in Minnesota as summer kicks off

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Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, but this year, the season already feels different.

Several of the state’s biggest summer attractions have already been called off due to COVID-19. The biggest blow came Friday when the Minnesota State Fair was canceled for the first time since 1946.

“I think like a lot of Minnesotans, we’re disappointed,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota.

The state agency is tasked with promoting Minnesota as a tourist destination.

“We’re proud of the fact that we have one of the best state fairs in the country, and we love to show it off,” Edman said. “Not just to our neighbors and to our friends, but people that live in other states. Often time when we bring people in, travel writers from other places in the United States and even the globe, we want to show off the Minnesota State Fair because it is truly Minnesotan.”

The fair has been drawing more than 2 million people to Falcon Heights in the last few years. In 2018, it generated $268 million for the Twin Cities, according to fair officials.

“It has such a huge economic impact,” Edman said.

He told 5 EYEWITNESS News that the decision to cancel the fair is understandable given the difficulties social distancing in large crowds.

It is also, however, another hit to the state’s $16 billion tourism industry.

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“We have this global pandemic, and I think it’s impacting the leisure and hospitality industry as much as, if not more so, than any other industry — not only in Minnesota but throughout the entire country right now,” he said.

Other events drawing thousands of people to the Twin Cities have already been called off this summer, including the Basilica Block Party. The Twin Cities Pride Festival will be celebrated virtually.

Mall of America, campgrounds and restaurant dining won’t begin the process of re-opening for at least another week, on June 1.

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“There are certain pockets that are seeing some hope,” Edman said. “I talked to some resorts […] that are seeing pretty good reservations this Memorial Day weekend. But there is some concern right now about camping available. There is some concern about restaurant levels not quite being at the level we were hoping in terms of indoor dining, events being canceled.”

Explore Minnesota is adapting to the crisis by emphasizing Minnesota’s outdoor activities, such as boating or biking, which can be done while social distancing. Edman said he also encouraged that many of the canceled events are engaging the public virtually as a way to keep them interested.

“I think people just need to kind of keep watch, find out what’s open and keep that hope alive to be able to get out there and travel,” he said. “Maybe not exactly the way they have in the past, but they will be able to get out there and enjoy each other and enjoy our great state.”

Edman expects it could take about six months for the tourism industry to rebound, or possibly longer if there is a resurgence in cases.