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Study: Visitors love Red Wing

North Star, a tourism research company, had this word cloud for the Red Wing Visitor & Convention Bureau. Survey respondents were asked "In your own words, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Red Wing." The size of each word reflects the number of people who used it.

Tourists don't necessary come here because it's a great place to shop. That's actually No. 17 on their list, according to a recent study.

They come to take in the river town's scenic beauty. They come because of the pottery, the local history and the shoes made here.

But while they're here, visitors shop. And they tend to spend a little more than is typical for other communities, according to North Star.

The company specializes in community branding. Research Director Shannon Gray said Red Wing has a remarkable and strong identity.

"Take advantage of Red Wing Pottery and Red Wing Shoe. Push, push, push," she said.

Gray addressed the Red Wing Visitor & Convention Bureau members as well as community leaders Monday morning via the Internet at the St. James Hotel.

North Star conducted the online survey June 1-29. The sample of 479 people came from the nearly 17,000 people VCB assisted in the past 12 months. The VCB paid $9,300 for visitor research.

Shopping itself may not be the primary attraction, Gray said, but the study indicated that people enjoy themselves so much that they want to take something meaningful home from a memorable trip.

"It's because of these great local businesses you have in town," Gray said.

North Star found that visiting parties that engaged with the VCB spent $75.05 a day on average. Shopping accounts for 34 percent -- well ahead of lodging at 16 percent and dining at 22 percent.

These people are satisfied, too. Gray said 28 percent of respondents said their perception of Red Wing changed after the visit and of those 95 percent said it changed for the good.

Confirming that, the study found that 92 percent of visitors are likely to make a return trip.

"It's incredible news," VCB Director Kathy Silverthorn said.

"What can we do better?" asked Dan Guida, executive director of the Red Wing Arts Association.

Gray listed three things.

1. Focus on being a hub destination. Partner with the communities up and down the river valley and suggest day trips to visitors who stay here. This encourages them to stay an extra day or two.

2. Push the idea of Red Wing as a spa or relaxation destination. The amenities are here, but people apparently don't think about them or know about them.

3. The annual Visitors Guide is extremely effective. The publication influenced 43 percent of people to come here and "has to stay" in the marketing plan. Keep on using social media, she said, but don't emphasize Facebook or Twitter; Red Wing already has users' loyalty.

Finally, the community should better promote local festivals and major events to attract people to Red Wing. People are looking for excuses to visit and to return.

"Give them a reason to come," she said.

Mike McKay serves on the VCB Board and manages the St. James Hotel. He said the study reinforced that board members' instinctive decisions were right a couple years ago on where and how to spend its limited $45,000 marketing budget.

"People would kill for our brand. Our return rate is unusually high. Leverage what we have," he said, ticking them off on his fingers. "The takeaway is we've been highly effective."

The Red Wing Visitor & Convention Bureau commissioned a visitor profile study and return-on-investment analysis.

The study examined strictly those people who had contact with the VCB. Of those 17,000 people, 497 were surveyed online.

North Star found that:

• People who had contact with the VCB spent a total of about $1.59 million in the last year.

• For every dollar the VCB spent on marketing ($45,000), local venders got an estimated $35.31 back.

• 40 percent of visitors learned about Red Wing as a destination from the Explore Minnesota Visitors/Travel Guide.

• 19 percent learned about the community directly through the Red Wing Visitor & Convention Bureau.

• 50 percent used personal or previous experience in planning their trip to Red Wing.

• 61 percent of those who contacted the VCB but haven't visited here intend to do so "eventually." The two primary reasons listed for the delay were finances and being unaware of things to do here.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

(651) 301-7870