Tim Campbell of Explore Minnesota rides into retirement after 30 years of leadership
As a native Iowan and movie buff, Tim Campbell knows very well the line, “If you build it, they will come,” from the Iowa-based movie .
Campbell likes the movie.
However, Campbell doesn’t think the line works so well within the tourism industry.
“The thought is that if you build it, they will come,” said Campbell, northeast regional manager of the Explore Minnesota northeastern office in Duluth. “But if you don’t tell them about it, they won’t come. It also has to be something they want to do and something they see value in.”
Campbell should know.
After 30 years of leading Explore Minnesota’s tourism efforts in the region, he is planning a long vacation. Campbell retires on Jan. 2.
Over those three decades, he has been a steady presence within northeastern Minnesota’s tourism industry, collaborating with regional tourism organizations from International Falls to Mora and the North Shore to Grand Rapids.
“He’s been a tremendous asset to the community and the Arrowhead region,” said Sue Mageau, Visit Duluth vice president of marketing. “He’s kind of the glue that keeps tourism together in the Arrowhead region.”
Campbell literally rides off into the sunset - on his new Harley-Davidson - perhaps to some of the tourist destinations he’s helped promote.
“It’s the people I’ve worked with that I will miss most,” he said. “They’re not just colleagues, they’re friends. I literally have more friends in Crane Lake than I do in Duluth.”
Pete Schultz – director of the International Falls, Rainy Lake and Ranier Convention and Visitors Bureau – says Campbell’s experience will be missed.
“He’s been around a long time in northeastern Minnesota, and he has helped all the destination marketing organizations with anything they’ve needed,” said Schultz. “If you needed something corrected on the (Explore Minnesota) web site or a lead on something we might want to know, he knew how to get it done. He’s helped facilitate a lot of meetings and conducted a lot of exercises to get people thinking in a linear process about what we need to do.”
Tourism is big business in Minnesota, especially in the Arrowhead region. Statewide, tourism had a $15.3 billion annual economic impact, employed 270,000 full and part-time workers and paid $5.8 billion in wages in 2017, according to Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency. Within northeastern Minnesota, the county-by-county annual economic impact is significant. St. Louis County in 2017 generated more than $558 million in gross tourism sales; Lake County more than $47 million; Cook County nearly $72 million; Itasca County over $75 million; Koochiching County more than $32 million, and Carlton County over $69 million. Together, that’s more than $813 million.
“It’s a very important part of the state’s economy,” said Campbell. “It impacts every part of the state, and I’ve kind of gotten to watch that unfold.”
Campbell says the region’s tourism industry has changed dramatically since he in 1989 began working for Explore Minnesota after serving with chambers of commerce in his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, Carroll, Iowa, and as chamber of commerce manager in Bemidji.
“The major change is in how we communicate,” said Campbell. “Technology has changed the game so much. Social media is a big influence in tourism. Facebook and Instagram have been huge, but a big difference is Google. If I’m from Iowa and I want to go to Brainerd, I don’t Google the tourism site, I just Google Brainerd. The communication is one of the biggest changes, and the way people find out about tourism is so different than it used to be. I haven’t used letterhead in probably four years. We didn’t have social media five years ago, and now we have a full-time social media specialist.”
The formation of destination marketing organizations such as Visit Duluth, Cloquet Chamber of Commerce, Lake County Chamber, Visit Cook County, Visit Grand Rapids, Iron Range Tourism Bureau, International Falls, Rainy Lake and Rainier Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ely Chamber of Commerce, Visit Crane Lake, and others, has also changed the game, said Campbell.
Local lodging taxes that didn’t exist years ago now flow to the marketing organizations, providing funding for professional staffing and marketing campaigns, he said.
“When I first started, we didn’t have people like Beth Pierce (at Iron Range Tourism Bureau). “They were rare, because the lodging tax was just coming into its own in the state. The only other one that had a lodging tax was Visit Duluth.”
Pierce, Iron Range Tourism Bureau executive director, says Campbell over the years has worked well with all the regional destination marketing organizations and larger tourism groups.
“Tim’s been a good friend to the Iron Range Tourism Bureau,” said Pierce. “He kind of works with everybody a little differently. I think he’s had a real positive role in keeping the Arrowhead Association together, in working on projects and as a good conduit to St. Paul.”
Explore Minnesota has five regional offices across the state: northeast, northwest, central, southern and metro. Explore Minnesota works in partnership with regional destination marketing organizations to update information on attractions and tourism sites on the Explore Minnesota web site and produces a travel guide.
In past years, Explore Minnesota provided marketing grants to destination marketing organizations, though that’s decreased in recent years as the organizations have benefited from lodging taxes.
“They are their own entities,” said Campbell. “We don’t tell them what to do and they don’t tell us what to do. Each one promotes their own destinations, so there is competition. But some, like Visit Duluth, does a lot to promote the North Shore. They’re really good about it. And Beth (Pierce) is really good about trying to do tourism all over the Range. Part of what’s changed is the lodging tax in that they’ve been able to hire good staff and not just be volunteer organizations. Without the lodging tax, they wouldn’t exist. I think they are doing an outstanding job.”
Each regional tourism entity works to differentiate itself and be innovative, said Campbell.
An attraction council formed by the Iron Range Tourism Bureau, along with a trails group that’s brought together recreational trail representatives from across northeastern Minnesota, are examples of forward-looking tourism thinking, he said.
“It’s made a huge difference,” said Campbell. “Its an example of innovative thinking.”
Summer, from June through August, remains the season when travelers spend the most. But tourism-related activities that attract tourists during other seasons are rapidly developing across the Arrowhead. All-terrain vehicle recreation, which expands tourism beyond summer, is on the rise, said Campbell. Mountain bike trail development is also skyrocketing thanks to the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation in Eveleth, he said.
“Northeastern Minnesota has become a mecca for mountain biking in large part due to the IRRRB,” said Campbell.
A “Ride the Arrowhead” highway map that’s been developed is also boosting motorcycle tourism across the region, he added. “It’s big on the North Shore, big in Duluth, big on the Iron Range and big in International Falls,” said Campbell.
At age 69, she’s enjoyed the job and the people he’s grown to know. But it’s time to hand off the job to a new generation, he said.
“A lot of days, I feel like I get paid to be on vacation,” said Campbell. “To live and work in an area that people spend thousands and thousands of dollars to come and visit and every day when I come to work, I get to see Lake Superior. And every time I see a bald eagle when I’m in the car, I slow down and get to see it.”