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Greg Talley with consulting firm Destinations International speaks at Fargo's Avalon Events Center on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, about the results of the DestinationNEXT survey. Emma Vatnsdal / Forum News Serivce

Survey: Convention center could help make Fargo a tourism hotspot

FARGO — It seems Fargo is already working toward what the people want, at least when it comes to tourism — but the industry could be bolstered if the community got a convention center, a long-discussed idea that hasn't come to fruition yet in Fargo-Moorhead.

In order to enhance the already active tourism efforts in the metro, and to get a feel for what may be lacking in those efforts, the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau commissioned consulting firm Destinations International to help pinpoint any gaps, key issues and opportunities for potential products, amenities, education, programming and experiences to benefit tourism in the community.

The firm, based in Washington, D.C., conducted a DestinationNEXT survey to identify the trends and opportunities that will shape the future of destination marketing and management — trends that can help locales promote themselves as the place to be. The research identifies strengths in 10 areas, while also finding five key areas that the destination should focus on to get to the next level.

Just under half, or 46 percent, of the 215 survey respondents were between the ages of 35 and 49, highlighting the relatively young average age of the area.

Key takeaways of the research were discussed with stakeholders Tuesday, Oct. 16, at Avalon Events Center. CVB President and CEO Charley Johnson said the results of the survey really weren't surprising.

"What was really interesting (in the presentation) was the difference in how each group perceived our needs," Johnson said. "Some clients viewed us as doing better in some areas than we viewed ourselves. Several of the points that were touched on are things we have discussed ourselves, but the survey helped clarify it a little better."

The survey found several possible opportunities for the community to attract more visitors, such as more options for outdoor enthusiasts like bike trails, water access and campgrounds, arts and cultural attractions and improved air travel options.

Public Wi-Fi, more walkable areas and more sporting event venues also made the list of possibilities.

Stakeholders at Tuesday's event then considered a list of possible areas of improvement to focus on and chose their top three, with the No. 1 item on many local officials' wish lists for years: a new convention center. Next up was a more engaged workforce, followed by more events to draw people to the area, which could include arts and cultural offerings, sporting events or other attractions.

While the report itself won't make these efforts materialize, the results of DestinationNEXT provided a jumping-off point for the members of the Fargo-Moorhead tourism industry as a whole and offered a possible road map to get there.

Mike Prekel, chairman of the CVB's board of directors, said the next step for this group is to get the message out and keep the tourism industry moving. Still, he said focusing on community investment is the main takeaway from this survey.

"We have a community that is invested in what we are doing," he said. "They're invested in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. That's the first step is getting everybody on board and believing in us. Then, we can focus on sending that message out and saying what we are going to do as the tourism community to move the needle."

Emma Vatnsdal

Emma Vatnsdal is a Features writer, focused on telling stories about people, places and all the interesting things that come along with it. She earned her degree in multimedia journalism from Minnesota State University Moorhead and joined the Forum Communications team in 2018. She grew up in the far north town of Roseau, Minn. and has a thick Minnesotan-Canadian accent. Follow her on Twitter @emmajeaniewenie.

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