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Published July 14, 2012, 11:18 PM

Tourism official promotes North Dakota globally

State’s international marketing program has budget of $435K
BISMARCK – So far this year, Fred Walker has logged 36,000 miles on 21 flights. He has spent 73 hours in the air and visited seven countries over a 31-day period.

By: Jessica Holdman, The Bismarck Tribune, INFORUM

BISMARCK – So far this year, Fred Walker has logged 36,000 miles on 21 flights. He has spent 73 hours in the air and visited seven countries over a 31-day period.

His goal – promoting North Dakota to international travelers.

Walker is the international travel marketing manager for the North Dakota Division of Tourism. He has represented the state at travel shows in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland, Los Angeles and Buffalo, Wyo.

“Every country in the world goes to those shows,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get them to North Dakota.”

Walker also meets with tour operators to get North Dakota into their vacation catalogs and takes members of the media on tours of the state.

With all of the traveling, the state’s international marketing program has a budget of $435,900 for the biennium. Walker said the tourism department saves on costs where it can. One way is by joining forces with nearby states in a group called Rocky Mountain International. The states share booths and hotel rooms. Several in the tourism business say the cost is worth it.

The Division of Tourism’s international program began 15 years ago. Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman said the program started out small, doing one large show a year and promoting specific events rather than on a steady basis.

Jay and Jeremy Doan are fifth-generation ranchers in Sterling and run ranch vacations on their working cattle ranch. Jay Doan said Walker was the one to put him and his brother in contact with international tour operators.

“He has been a tremendous help,” he said. “They have all the connections.”

In their first full season, the Doans have had 20 international guests so far.

Tracy Potter with the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation said he saw guests at Fort Lincoln from about three dozen nations last year.

“I think it’s steadily increasing,” he said.

Potter said international visitors account for 2 to 3 percent of the foundation’s overall business, or 6 percent if Canada is included. He said it adds up to $25,000 annually at Fort Lincoln alone.

“If they spend $6 with us, they spend $200 in the community,” he said.

Walker also is starting to see his work pay off. In his meetings this year, he said, people have stopped asking where North Dakota is and have started asking what they can do here and what is new.

The tourists who come to North Dakota are different from those who go to large cities like Los Angeles, Walker said. They usually will travel in smaller groups of two to eight people. He said they usually have been to the U.S. three or four times and want to see the “real America” they have read about in books and have seen in John Wayne movies.

Jay Doan said he didn’t even know there was a demand for ranch vacations until approached by Walker. He said the visitors like the things that he and his family sometimes take for granted, like moving cattle and wide open spaces.

“They’d rather have that than the Disney World-type experience,” he said.

International travelers usually stay longer than U.S. vacationers because they have four to six weeks of vacation time, Walker said. They also tend to spend twice as much money and are more willing to get off the main road and explore.

“They’re going to stop in Jamestown to see the buffalo, go to the casino, go to Washburn, go to the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” Walker said. “When they go to the Grand Canyon, they want to experience it, not just hop out of car to take a picture.”

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