As she toured southeast Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar journeyed to four different cities on Friday, July 18, including Lanesboro. She traveled to each city to discuss tourism and trends that leaders in the community have recognized.
Per Klobuchar's request, Mayor Steve Rahn, Bill Swansen from the Lanesboro Economic Development Authority, restaurant owner John Pieper, Habberstad House Bed and Breakfast owner Nancy Heisenga, Lanesboro Arts Center director John Davis and Pedal Pushers owners Scott and Angie Taylor composed the crux of the group. Also attending was Dee Slinde, Lanesboro’s Chamber of Commerce director.
As they met in the Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce office, Klobuchar's goal was to learn how tourism has been impacting the community over the past years.
Recently, Klobuchar presented the Travel Promotion, Enhancement and Modernization Act before the Senate to promote and increase tourism, particularly foreign visitors. She has been to Lanesboro before as a tourist herself and greatly appreciated the experience.
"She is familiar with the area and sees it as a big tourism area," Slinde explained.
One statistic she inquired into was the amount of foreign tourists coming to Lanesboro now as opposed to pre-9/11.
According to Slinde, before 9/11, 15 percent of tourism in Lanesboro came from out of the country visitors. In a drastic contrast, now international tourism comprises one to two percent of Lanesboro's tourism.
Because of the heightened security travelers face after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, foreign visitors have found traveling a much more difficult process, greatly impacting the United States tourism revenue. Klobuchar's bill presents a plan of how to make it easier for these visitors to enter the country and assist the tourism business.
One idea is for foreign persons to pay a small fee as they arrive in the United States.
"In my understanding of what Sen. Klobuchar is proposing, people coming into the country now are not charged anything for coming. But if they had a small fee, it would go to tourism for the foreigners," stated Slinde.
Klobuchar also encouraged those in attendance to earnestly work at potentially grouping together with other areas in the region, banding with communities surrounding Rochester and utilizing existing tourism bureaus even more.
"She heavily encouraged us to use a group or regional push to get our name out," Slinde noted. "She suggested tapping into funds like the Destination Management Company and gave us other ideas on where to get money for promotion."
One other bit of information Klobuchar sought to obtain regarded the feel of the tourists who have come to Lanesboro.
"She asked if we felt a change in the tourists coming here. Scott (Taylor) said he did feel that the people coming are younger and healthier. Folks that have money do not have as much to spend here anymore," Slinde commented.
To promote Lanesboro on the foreign tourism market, Klobuchar suggested inviting foreign tourism writers to the area, advertising the regions surrounding the Mississippi River.
"She really emphasized joining with other places in the region to use their resource to promote the area even more," Slinde commented.
Another aspect broached in the meeting had to do with bolstering the economy in areas such as Lanesboro.
"She suggested creating a more diverse community with businesses that are not tourism based. An example is a factory or plant like at Caledonia. People related to the business, like from China, can come see what we do," Slinde related.
Things seem to be looking up overall for tourism, trending upwards over the past five years. However, foreign tourism still has a large gap to cross from what it was 14 years ago.
After a short, informal meeting with the group, Klobuchar set out to visit the people of the area stopping at Another Time Ice Cream shop. As she continued to re-familiarize herself with Lanesboro, she took a jaunt down the bike trail, appreciating the encouraging words she received from those who recognized her.