Last week I joined more than 325 colleagues from 42 states as we converged on Washington D.C. for the U.S. Travel Association's Destination Capitol Hill. Picture the national version of Duluth & St. Louis County Days, which was scheduled the over the same dates. Fortunately, Visit Duluth could divide our talented team and participate in both of these important initiatives.
Advocacy on behalf of the tourism industry really gets me jazzed, but is it effective? Absolutely. If we don't invest any effort to educate and inform elected officials about key issues, there's zero chance of creating an impact or influencing the outcome. Of course, advocating is no guarantee the final result will reflect your desired policy, but it's vital we partake in the process.
At the state level, Visit Duluth enthusiastically supports the annual Duluth & St. Louis County Days event organized by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. While projects such as the runway reconstruction at Duluth International Airport have a direct tie to tourism, the steam plant project may seem less so. However, the redesign of Superior Street has significant implications on the visitor experience in our city. We view our role as the backup singers in a band, there to enhance the overall sound and create a chart-topping hit.
The same holds true when connecting with leaders in our nation's Capitol. Under the umbrella of the state tourism office, Explore Minnesota Tourism (EMT) we came together in a unified voice to emphasize three major topics that are affecting the travel industry at the local, state and national level:
• Modernization of airports and infrastructure is a key component of growing tourism. Investing in roads, bridges and transportation is essential to creating efficient means for people to travel throughout the US.
• Ensuring security and passenger safety does not have to come at the expense of international travel. Both are critical to the tourism industry and a measured approach is vital for each initiative to succeed.
• Visa waiver is a misnomer. This program provides detailed background and vetting with more than 30 countries. Students are afforded the opportunity for employment within the hospitality sector, helping ease workforce shortages. This program should not only continue, but expand to include additional countries.
Our Minnesota team had the opportunity to discuss these topics at length in meetings with Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan. Sen. Amy Klobuchar serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Tourism Caucus and during our meeting with her staff we expressed gratitude for her leadership and support on these issues. We met with every district across the state, regardless of whether individual team members could vote for that person or not.
Throughout the course of this marathon day of appointments, we continuously crossed paths with a delegation of Lutheran bishops from across Minnesota, a large contingent of Alzheimer's advocates sporting purple sashes and logo wear and a Boy Scout troop decked out in uniforms populated with badges.
Each group making their rounds, passionately representing their cause. It was amazing to witness the staffers and elected officials shift gears and engage with sincerity, detailed note-taking and questions. Even though this process is repeated multiple times daily, it didn't feel routine or insignificant. Advocacy matters at every level of government and participating reinforces the value of our voices.