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Resorts hungry in early going

The good news for Minnesota resort owners is that post-Sept.


The good news for Minnesota resort owners is that post-Sept. 11 jitters probably won't affect their businesses this year.

The bad news is that a slow recovery in the economy might.

Bookings at some resorts are a little slower than normal this year.

David Burd, manager of Fair Hills Resort in Detroit Lakes, said his bookings are perhaps 10 percent behind the same time last year.

Initially, he was concerned that last fall's terrorist attacks could affect business.


"Then, as we thought about it, we thought, we're in the states, we're a family, wholesome-type safe vacation," Burd said. "We don't think it's the safety issue. We just think people still are a little leery about the economy. Unfortunately for us, vacations are one of the first things people cut off their budgets."

And that's even true when the economy is supposedly recovering, he said.

"If you're going to buy a house, at least it's an investment. ... A family vacation, some people are saying we can do without that, so let's be a little cautious and see what happens."

Fair Hills is trying to pick up some of the slack by marketing itself to Fargo-Moorhead business groups and using its Web site ( www.fairhillsresort.com ) to drum up business.

At Little Norway Resort in Park Rapids, owner Sissel Brandon said bookings have remained much the same as in past years, although they are coming in later.

In most years, most of the summer has been booked by the end of January. This year, openings were still being filled in March and early April.

Like Burd, she believes the post-Sept. 11 fear of travel has largely dissipated.

Some regular customers may not be coming back because they may be called up for National Guard duty, but that's a very small part of her trade, she said. "I think it's more the economy than anything. Some (customers) have lost their jobs or got new jobs but don't have vacation."


That's particularly true because many of Little Norway's customers come from the Twin Cities, where companies like Northwest Airlines, IBM and 3M have seen layoffs.

Little Norway Resort has operated for 27 years, and many customers are regulars. "You're dealing with a lot of families," Brandon said. "Some things happen some years" and those families may not show.

Steve Kunz, owner of Rocky's Resort near Dent, said he's about 75 percent booked for the summer, about what it normally would be this time of year.

Like the others, he says the economy may be slowing things down even as it's on the upswing. "This area, it's slow to go into depression, but it's slow to come out."

State tourism officials are more optimistic.

Chuck Lennon, a marketing representative for the Minnesota Office of Tourism, said the Sept. 11 attacks "had an immediate impact last fall and a lingering impact into the winter season. I think for the most part the jitters have abated, based on what we're hearing for bookings for spring-summer."

What they are hearing is "good stuff," he said. "Everyone's starting to get optimistic, finally. They're starting to see the phones ring, they're starting to see hits on their Web sites." And at his own office, phones are ringing with tourism inquiries, he said.

"We're in an (economic) uptick," Lennon said.


"That has a sub-psychological effect on consumer confidence. I think a lot of those phone calls and Web-site hits are ... part of the grieving we're coming out of."

And things could get better, based on some long-term weather indications, he said.

"If you look at some of the extended weather forecasts, it appears there is an El Niño in place in the Pacific. For golf and swimming pool weather, a long, hot, dry summer would be a great thing."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

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