Minneapolis may not be high on tourists' travel lists just yet, but city leaders have a plan to draw more visitors in with water taxis, advertising campaigns and a riverfront visitors center.
Those are all recommendations included in the city's first tourism master plan released by Meet Minneapolis. The goal is to make the city a must-see destination attracting 50 million tourists annually by 2030.
But there's no plan to pay for all the amenities yet. Raising awareness of the city might be the first step, officials said.
To craft the plan, researchers surveyed Minneapolis residents, visitors, travel writers and hospitality workers, and ran focus groups in Chicago, Fargo and Des Moines to pinpoint what Minneapolis lacked. While those surveyed could point out Twin Cities' area amenities like the Mall of America, the Walker Art Center and U.S. Bank Stadium, outsiders also said they think of Minneapolis as "cold, remote, Midwestern and boring."
"The process confirmed that we need to brag more, because the biggest challenge we face is people don't know how awesome we are," said Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Advertising efforts will target millennials and people of color in an attempt to draw diverse visitors, said Kevin Hanstad, director of market research for Meet Minneapolis. The city drew 32 million tourists in 2015.
"We have a long ways to go," Hanstad said. "When you're thinking about going to vacation somewhere, you're thinking about New York or Los Angeles. Minneapolis isn't making the cut to even be on that list."
Of the people surveyed who have visited Minneapolis, about one-quarter said they came to visit friends and family, or for a business trip.
Dallas resident Stan McGill visited this week to help coordinate the American Choral Directors Association national conference. He hadn't considered checking out Minneapolis before, mostly because of the cold.
"The only reason why I'm here is to run this conference," said McGill, who said he stayed within a block of the Minneapolis Convention Center and nearby Hilton Hotel.
The Meet Minneapolis plan also calls for more directional signs throughout the city's skyways, a campaign to promote local restaurants and the city's art scene, additional child-friendly activities and better connections between the river and the Walker's Sculpture Garden.
The plan does not yet include cost estimates, Hanstad said. Meet Minneapolis plans to partner with public and private investors to fulfill project costs. The organization spent $125,000 on research and planning in the past year.
That doesn't concern Hodges, who said it was important to have a plan before reaching out to investors.
"There's no use talking about the resources for it, because people don't want to invest in a notion," she said. "There's always a value in having an intentional, long-range plan, because it signals to people … that you've got your act together."
Jessie Bekker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.