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Tourism plans future

Sikh-American Harjinder Singh, back, Laundi Keepseagle, left, and daughters Kyemoni, 5, front, and Alexanndrea, 7, look over an ancient bison skull at the National Buffalo Museum on Wednesday. Tom LaVenture / The Sun

There were fewer visitors to Jamestown in 2017 but those visitors were staying longer and spending more, according to Searle Swedlund, executive director of Jamestown Tourism.

Budget cuts at the North Dakota Legislature meant fewer marking dollars for state tourism to reach potential visitors, he said. The job now is to provide a quality experience for the visitors who do come, he said.

"We are leveraging our resources so that we can engage these visitors with more and more," Swedlund said.

The city of Jamestown restaurant tax receipts were just over $400,000 for 2017. This was around $6,000, or 1.5 percent higher than 2016, according to Swedlund's report to the Jamestown Tourism Board.

Hotel tax receipts were approximately $570,000 for 2017. This was about $16,000, or 8.8 percent less than 2016.

Matt Woods, president of Jamestown Tourism and general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Jamestown, said the average room rate in North Dakota is down 3.8 percent. A decrease in occupancy has some hotels pushing room rates down to be more competitive, and this is affecting lodging tax receipts for tourism, he said.

"We're definitely seeing a lack of demand here," Woods said.

Jamestown is centrally located and is not experiencing a glut of available hotel rooms, he said. What also helps is that Jamestown Tourism is not just working to capture more visitors but to engage them while they are here, he said.

"We're seeing some of that fruit being born now, especially with the National Buffalo Museum," Woods said.

Overall visitors to the National Buffalo Museum, the people who walked into the lobby and gift shop, were down 5 percent in 2017, Swedlund said. The paid admissions were up 75 percent, he said.

The museum used Jamestown Tourism grant funding to support structural renovations, install a theater to show a documentary video on the North American bison and museum exhibits, and for the restoration and return of White Cloud, the albino bison that died in November 2016.

"That made the museum something people wanted to pay to see," Swedlund said.

The visitors are posting positive comments online at sites like Travelocity and Google Reviews, he said. That momentum continues to grow, he said.

"This is what we've been preaching for the past couple of years," Swedlund said. "The point is that when we get people here we can still as a community engage them."

Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen said she is pleased with Jamestown Tourism bringing more accountability to its grant funding process. Over two years the agency revised its event, staffing and capital construction grant guidelines to focus on visitor experience.

The Talking Trail project is one example that visitors appreciate, Andersen said. The first full year of Talking Trail resulted in 1,738 calls by people to hear 2-minute recorded stories about 70 area sites.

"The next big thing in tourism will be the repair to the Frontier Village road," Anderson said. "That is a big thing from a tourism perspective."

Work is ongoing to better assess total visitor numbers to area camping and historic sites, Swedlund said. Camping will be strong next year and improvements to marketing local museums and historic attractions are underway, he said.

Three area municipal campgrounds reported a combined $115,634 in receipts, a 13.7 percent drop from $132,342 in 2016, according to the report. Fewer marketing dollars contributed to the decrease but the overall numbers have increased since outdoors and camping became a bigger part of the tourism strategy, Swedlund said.

The improvements to social media, the jamestowncalendar.com and discoverjamestownnd.com websites are key to marketing along with the annual Source Guide, he said.

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