Hastings is a hot destination.
That was the message brought to the Hastings City Council last week by Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau President Kristy Barse.
She said that lodging numbers over the summer were – in her history at the job – at an alltime high in July.
Barse said that through the city’s lodging tax, which funds the tourism endeavors, COVID took a big toll. The bureau receives a 3 percent tax on hotel and motel stays.
She said preCOVID, the tax was generating about $56,000 annually back to the tourism bureau. In 2020, that dropped to $44,000.
The visitors are back, though, and in a big way. Barse said that $66,000 has been collected this fiscal year already.
“We paid attention and listened to what to Explore Minnesota had to say and what was trending, which was that it was going to be a much better year but still not back to 100 percent normal,” she said. “We still went for it. We budgeted $56,000, and we’re actually sitting at $66,000 just this year, and we’re about two months behind on that lodging tax. We just collected our July lodging tax, which is the highest that it’s ever been since I’ve been in this position. We have had a massive comeback in our lodging, which is fantastic.”
That’s not only tourists, but a reflection on things happening in all aspects of the city.
“Our hotels are seeing an increase in lodging with construction workers from Fleet Farm and the MnDOT projects,” she said. “It’s a nice number to show.”
Barse said the tourism bureau has worked to get the word out in the Twin Cities about what Hastings has to offer. The bureau invests in season targeted online campaigns in winter, spring and fall, because lodging establishments are already busy in the summer. She said people targeted through emails showed a lot of interest in Hastings events, such as the Historic Hastings Car Shows, and at amenities like the city bike trails. The bureau publishes bike maps and a visitor’s guide and has put kiosks downtown with QR codes that can be read by phones that provide additional information, as well as promoting Hastings in regional publications.
This year, the bureau plans more targeted marketing campaigns to track where visitors are coming to Hastings from. They also have contracted with a drone photographer for footage of Hastings from above.
Councilmember Tina Folch suggested contacting Cottage Grove’s associations. She said she had a conversation with the chamber office there, and groups hosting sports events have a problem because there aren’t enough restaurants there.
“I think there’s an opportunity there. Something could be packaged and distributed to those associations,” she said.
“That’s a really good suggestion,” said Barse. “I think that’s part of the strengthening our strategic partnerships. We’ve found a good balance with Prescott and being able to promote both communities. I’m looking to expand that in Inver Grove Heights too as our bike trail expands up to St. Paul, so Cottage Grove could be a natural partner as well.”
Barse and the tourism bureau were commended for their efforts.
“I think you’re doing an excellent job,” councilmember Lisa Leifeld said. “These are people who are coming from out of town, and that’ just a great thing to see. I can definitely see a change myself as a lifetime resident and I just love it. I love people knowing that this little gem isn’t that far away.”
Barse turned the compliment around to the city’s efforts.
“I feel that we’re really starting to see the investment that the city has made in tourism assets,” she said. “I can feel it even when I attend chamber and tourism conferences. It used to be when I would go, someone would say, ‘You’re from Hastings. So that takes four hours to get here’ and it was in the Twin Cities. That’s no longer the case. You know they’ve been here. They’ve been here recently when I talked to them, so I can feel it. I can definitely feel the change too.”
Councilmember Mark Vaughn asked if some research could be done on closing downtown roads for events, because people from out of town could see road barricades and think construction is underway and turn around. Leifeld suggested DOTstyle message signs promoting the reason the road is closed.