Discovering The Twin Cities In The Time Of COVID
St. Paul has plenty of classic landmarks that will allow for some great summer sightseeing. Photo courtesy of Visit Saint Paul
Despite COVID-19 wreaking havoc on public health, the economy, and more, local Convention and Visitors Bureaus are refusing to let local businesses go down without a fight.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend everything in its path, we are hearing about more and more businesses we love closing due to the economic impact. As the United States’ death toll skyrockets, small businesses are taking a hard hit as we enter an economic calamity. Among things that aren’t just deemed “nonessential” at this time, but also dangerous, is travel. Which means tourism is an industry that is undoubtedly experiencing some budget cuts and job losses.
Around the Twin Cities, this means Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) are scrambling to figure out what to do next. But there seems to be one commonality across local CVBs: hope.
Visit Saint Paul is one example of a CVB that has been able to make the pivot during this tumultuous time.
“Whether it is creating new assets like the Saint Paul from Home microsite, assisting stakeholders, or providing complimentary meals to first responders and health care workers, we are as passionate as ever. We know recovery will start with the help of tourism—both economically and in terms of morale,” says Terry Mattson, president and CEO of Visit Saint Paul and the Saint Paul RiverCentre.
Mattson says that COVID-19 has certainly forced Visit Saint Paul to reevaluate and rework some things, but they are constantly evolving to accommodate the city, its businesses, and visitors.
“What’s most important rises to the top every day. Budgets evolve. Conventions and room blocks are rescheduled. We continuously monitor research and revise marketing initiatives. Businesses won’t recover without us bringing back demand when the time is right,” Mattson says. “There are different dates for almost every phase of critical decision making. Not knowing exactly what’s next is the biggest challenge, but we don’t stop preparing and trying really hard.”
Though social distancing guidelines remain in place, and many people are sequestered to their homes, people can still enjoy all that St. Paul has to offer by visiting outdoor spaces to go walking, hiking, biking, boating, golfing, and more.
But you can enjoy the city from home, too. Visit Saint Paul is offering a collage of “Google Treks,” which takes Google’s camera used in street-view to areas not accessible by road, available on its Saint Paul from Home microsite. The site also has an activity pack, which highlights activities from partners as well as original coloring pages, puzzles, and a Taste of Saint Paul cookbook, which is a collection of recipes from local chefs and restaurants that is continually added to.
St. Paul’s twin, Minneapolis, is also staying hopeful and taking advantage of its virtual platform at this time. Before the initial stay-at-home order, Meet Minneapolis conducted a test run of working from home to ensure all employees had a level of comfort should they need to move to a virtual environment.
“The test went well and was extended for the week. Just after that, Gov. Tim Walz issued the stay-at-home order, and we have continued working virtually,” says Director of Public Relations and Communications Kathy McCarthy. “Like many other organizations, we’ve conducted countless video conference meetings, making sure we are staying in close contact with one another and our clients.”
Since travel around the world is at a near standstill, McCarthy says the tourism and hospitality industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Large meetings and conventions can’t take place based on stay-at-home orders and guidelines from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health, and sporting events have been halted. “Our bars, restaurants, hotels, museums, and concert venues are empty,” she adds.
“Our sales team is working to find alternative meeting dates for clients who had to postpone their conference and conventions. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle, and they are trying to put the pieces back together,” McCarthy says. “It’s also a challenge to promote travel to Minneapolis when there is a stay-at-home order in place. We quickly shifted our marketing focus to supporting local businesses, offering additional resources to our partner businesses, and created our ‘Experience Minneapolis From Home’ catalog of content to keep armchair travelers engaged and Minneapolis top of mind.”
Meet Minneapolis is also encouraging locals to try some of their favorite scenic biking routes, best running and hiking trails, parks, and public gardens. There is also a list of some of the best murals in the city, which can be explored from a safe distance. Experience Minneapolis From Home also offers virtual tours, activities, and games; DIY classes, recipes, and crafts; a list of local restaurants open for delivery, curbside pickup, or takeout; and virtual Minneapolis puzzles and music playlists.
“Our goal with Experience Minneapolis From Home is to ensure Minneapolis is top-of-mind when people are ready to resume travel,” McCarthy says. “Even before that, we want them to think about a Minneapolis getaway—whether a day, an overnight, or longer—and are working to inspire them to visit Minneapolis and all of the great assets our city offers.”
Slightly outside of Minneapolis proper is Bloomington, known for the Mall of America and MSP International Airport. With COVID-19 looming, the Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau has been focusing on communicating with its partner hotels, restaurants, and attractions to assist them with their needs, as well as working with clients to postpone and re-book meetings, conventions, and other events.
“We’ve had cancellations of group meetings and conventions, special events, and youth athletic tournaments,” says Bloomington CVB President and CEO Bonnie Carlson. “We postponed our incredible Diamond Service Awards program, which honors front line service personnel in the hotel, restaurant, and retail industries. These critical employees are our hospitality heroes.”
Though Bloomington, like the rest of the world, is mostly shut down right now, restaurants still remain open for takeout and delivery, with a full list on Bloomington CVB’s website. Additionally, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is open for hiking, biking, bird-watching, and fishing; and the Hyland Lake Park Reserve is open for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and boating, though no rental equipment is available for guests at this time.
Bloomington CVB is also offering virtual tours of the Mall of America, Minnehaha Falls, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Nickelodeon Universe, FlyOver America, and the Minnesota Zoo, so locals and visitors can feel like they’re right in the middle of all that Bloomington has to offer.
The CVB is also collecting information on stay-at-home activities from local attractions and organizations. Bloomington’s resident arts organization, Artistry, is sharing suggestions for at-home art experiences; the City of Bloomington’s Parks and Recreation Department has created an online Recreation Experience Center with resources for recreation at home; the Minnesota Zoo is offering at-home programming with distance learning assistance, animal webcams, and more; Bloomington’s engineering museum, The Works, is offering many free resources and at-home engineering activities to help with distance learning; and Crayola Experience’s Creativity At Home program offers free craft downloads, coloring pages, and art projects.
For more information about these CVBs, visit:
Visit Saint Paul — www.visitsaintpaul.com
Meet Minneapolis — www.minneapolis.org
Bloomington CVB — www.bloomingtonmn.org