The term “shopportunity” has crept into the lexicon of the Eagan Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The bureau is looking for a big increase in visitors — including out-of-town and international travelers — when the Paragon Outlet Mall opens next year in the Cedar Grove redevelopment area. The new mall is fueling much of the 5 percent increase in the bureau’s 2014 budget, to almost $975,000.
More than $500,000 is earmarked for marketing the city as a destination for meetings, groups, sports and vacations. The bureau is expanding its marketing reach from six Midwestern states to 10 and the Winnipeg area. Armed with new, state-of-the-art display booths, the bureau will promote Eagan at 12 trade shows in 2014, up from eight this year.
The bureau also plans to revamp its website and develop new digital platforms to promote the city on mobile devices and tablets.
Much of the amped-up marketing will focus on the new mall, expected to have more than 100 upscale outlet stores when it opens next August.
“Never before in Eagan’s hospitality history has an attraction of this magnitude been added to the landscape,” the bureau said in a recent report to the City Council. The economic benefits are expected to spread beyond the mall to other area attractions, hotels and restaurants.
The new mall will arrive on the scene as travel nationwide continues to recover from the recession. The hotel industry in the Twin Cities has been making a comeback. Through the end of May, average occupancy at metro area hotels was 62 percent, up from 58 percent for the same period a year earlier, according to Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research.
Occupancy at Eagan’s hotels also has been moving up and currently is about 70 percent, according to Brent Cory, president and CEO of the bureau. The potential benefit of the outlet mall to area hotels is a key reason developers have expressed an interest in building a new hotel — the first in Eagan since 2002 — in the Cedar Grove area.
The Eagan bureau’s optimism about the new mall’s economic punch is well-founded. Outlet malls across the country have a record of luring shoppers from around the globe, with Chinese tourists currently the fastest-growing segment of the foreign customer market.
Baltimore-based Paragon Outlet Partners markets its other malls to international customers, like Asian tourists traveling to the San Franciso area near its outlet mall in Livermore, Calif., according to Kelvin Antill, a Paragon development partner. “I do expect we will be marketing the Eagan mall internationally,” Antill said.
For now, the Eagan bureau will focus on travelers from Canada, especially the Winnipeg area.
“We think it’s a great market, because it’s drivable. Folks are coming down this way already,” Cory said. Cory told the City Council one Winnipeg tour group already has booked a stay in Eagan specifically aimed at visiting the Paragon mall. Other groups also have expressed interest, he said.
The new mall’s proximity to the Mall of America — which draws more than 40 million visitors a year — is expected to provide a significant boost. A survey commissioned last year by the Eagan bureau found that the MOA’s website ranked second among online resources used in trip planning by Eagan visitors.
About 3 million MOA visitors are from outside the U.S., according to Dan Jasper, a spokesman for the Bloomington mall.
“MOA’s international traffic is increasing, and we have an aggressive goal to expand international guests to 5 million by 2015,” Jasper said. He said the MOA’s research has found that international visitors spend 2.5 times more per visit than local shoppers.
The MOA already has a marketing partnership with the Eagan bureau that helps generate business for the city’s attractions and 15 hotels. Cory said the bureau will continue to look for ways to link marketing for the Paragon mall to the MOA, like promoting the transportation connection between the two shopping centers on the new Red Line BRT.
The MOA is in the midst of an expansion that will add about 180,000 square feet of retail space.
The improvements are part of the ongoing arms race among retail centers nationwide to make their malls unique destinations. The Eagan bureau expects much the same of the Paragon mall, calling it “Eagan’s Disney World.”