This week, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson unveiled her path for the future of tourism in the city. This is was a series of three announcements, one of which raised some eyebrows as it bypassed utilizing a local company in favor of hiring an Edina firm.

This decision was announced while discussing "Tourism Marketing Services Contracts". Mayor Larson pointed out that ever since tourism taxes were established by State Statute and City Ordinance, three percent of the Hotel/Motel tax, the first five percent, goes to the General Operating Fund. Of that balance, 35% goes to advertising and publicity. The other 65% goes to pay off the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center debt.

With a City protocol in place to bid out services, a Request for Qualifications was sent out earlier this year to find a partner for tourism marketing services and convention sales.

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According to the City, 28 applications were received. Of those, five were from Duluth, 15 were throughout Minnesota, and eight were from outside Minnesota.  Then, nine applicants were selected for a first-round interview. Finally, six applicants advanced to a final interview, which included a request for a proposal.

When it was all said and done, none of the five Duluth applicants, which reportedly included Visit Duluth, was hired to promote Duluth tourism.

"After extensive consideration, it feels clear that Bellmont Partners and their collaborative partners at Lawrence &Schiller are the right fit for right now. We are excited for the community to meet them in the coming weeks,” Mayor Larson said. “This
community is proud of tourism and events and our place in the state and the nation’s heart - Bellmont Partners is the right choice to grow, to elevate our brand, to expand audiences, and to represent our whole community.”

While this is undoubtedly a coup for Bellmont Partners, who have scored a contract with the City Of Duluth worth $1.8 million, it's not popular with many in the community who feel that there should have been a better effort made to hire a Duluth-based company, such as Visit Duluth.

Mayor Larson did recommend that Visit Duluth provide convention coordination and visitor center operations, areas that she feels are a strength for them. This visitor operations contract is worth $400,000.

You can follow the button below to read the entire Duluth 'Path For The Future Of Tourism', which also has information on the Tourism Tax Application window and the creation of a new Tourism, Arts, and Culture position.

Next up in this process, City Administration will be submitting a resolution to City Council to approve the plan that could hire Bellmont Partners to provide advertising and promotional services promoting the City of Duluth as a visitor, tourist, and convention destination.

Prior to that, Mayor Larson has requested a Committee of the Whole meeting before the August 16 Council meeting where she will talk through the process and representatives from Bellmont Partners will be on hand to answer questions.

One would expect this to be a lively meeting. I'm all for hiring the best firm for the job, but I would expect that if a Duluth-based company was even close in their ability to do the job effectively compared to a company located outside our community, you'd hire local.

Perhaps Bellmont Partners was so head and shoulders above everyone else in the running that hiring them was clearly the best decision for those involved in the process. However, they'd have to know a backlash would ensue. Ultimately, if whoever is hired does the job effectively, Duluth tourism grows, more money comes into the area and everybody wins.

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