A look at Fargo-Moorhead's hotel stays and tourism industry during the pandemic

The FMCVB's annual meeting and awards banquet, held virtually this week, is meant to recognize individuals and organizations that contribute to tourism promotion, development and hospitality while also discussing the current state of the industry.

From left to right, Wes Sorenson, Gia Rassier, Jeff Offutt, and Chad Thorvilson. Rassier was the recipient of the 2020 Tourism Champion award for her work on the Fargo-Moorhead GeoTour, the first official Geocaching Tour in the state of Minnesota and North Dakota. (submitted photo)

FARGO — The Fargo Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau held its annual meeting and awards banquet virtually Tuesday, March 9.

President and CEO Charley Johnson kicked off the event by thanking FMCVB employees and board members for "their flexibility and never-ending good humor as we have navigated a year unlike any other."

Johnson went on to share these FMCVB statistics from 2020:

  • The current count of hotel rooms in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo stands at 5,600. Johnson said that is just an estimate, as some hotels closed their doors for a period of time last year. Of the rooms, 384 are in Moorhead, 607 are in West Fargo and the rest are in Fargo.
  • The occupancy rate in 2020 across the market was 40.1%, down from 55.9% in 2020.
  • The average daily rate for a hotel room fell to $74.41, down 13.3%, year to year.
  • Hotel room sales revenue — just rooms, no food and beverage or meeting space — fell to $61.7 million, a drop of almost 40% year to year.

Johnson admitted that the pandemic "knocked the hospitality sector for a loop."
"We hit a low of about 18% occupancy for most of April before beginning a slow recovery," Johnson said. "I'm happy to say we have recovered significantly in recent weeks and months, but there's still a long way to go. February came back to 49.5%, with a lot of help from hockey and some other sports, but it's probably safe to say that we'll bounce around in the low to upper 40s as we head into spring."

Johnson also addressed concerns that a lasting effect of COVID will be fewer conventions and in-person meetings. While he expects it will take some time for the industry to return to where it was in 2019, he thinks many people do want to meet in person again.


"I think we have missed the interaction of general sessions and breakout sessions, and the energy of a real exhibit floor," he said. "And I don't think I'm speaking only for myself when I say I believe that — most of all — people have missed their friends and colleagues from other parts of the country, and long for the chance to exchange ideas and stories with them in the sessions and in the social atmosphere that surrounds those events."

The event concluded with awards being issued to the following individuals and organizations for their contributions to the hospitality sector in 2020:

  • Tourism Champion Award: Gia Rassier. The award is meant to recognize the individual who contributed the most to tourism promotion, development and hospitality in 2020. Rassier is responsible for putting together the first geocaching tour in North Dakota and Minnesota, which is credited with producing 195 room nights over the past 12 months.
  • Pineapple Award: The Lights at Sheyenne in West Fargo . The award is given to the organization that has contributed most to tourism promotion, development and hospitality. The FMCVB praised The Lights at Sheyenne and the city of West Fargo for successfully opening a new event center in the midst of a pandemic.
  • Industry Excellence Award: ND Emergency Medical Services Association. The award is given to the individual or organization that has made a significant effort to bring a major convention, conference, meeting or special event to Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo during the last year. The ND EMSA hosted two successful events before the coronavirus hit in March, bringing 339 room nights to the area.
  • Tourism Champion Award: Fargo Youth Baseball. The award is given to the group or individual responsible for a sporting event that had a significant impact on tourism promotion, development and hospitality. Fargo Youth Baseball was the first sport to host events after the initial coronavirus shutdown. The organization partnered with state and local health leaders create a safety plan necessary to operate baseball events within COVID-19 restrictions.
  • North of Normal Award: Clay Wittlesey and Brenda Warren. The award is occasionally given to an individual or individuals who have made a significant contribution to tourism promotion, development and hospitality in the community during their career. Wittlesey retired in 2020 after 40 years with the Fargo Park District. In 2017, he was asked to oversee a new events department focused on helping bring elite events to the community. During his tenure, the area played host to the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association National Championships, the North American Fastpitch Association World Series in 2017 and 2018, and the 2019 Broomball National Championships. Warren recently retired as executive director of Bonanzaville in West Fargo. Her tenure included having to find and move in a new church after a fire destroyed the one that had been there for years. She and her team also pioneered what became the popular paranormal tours of the buildings that make up the Pioneer Village.
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