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Gov. Mark Dayton and the state's top tourism official are making a dramatic push to increase tourism with a new campaign to showcase things visitors can do only in Minnesota.
An additional $11 million in state funding is allowing tourism officials to reach beyond the immediate Midwestern states and Canadian provinces to 14 new markets including, for the first time, into Missouri, Kansas and Western states.
The campaign features new television commercials that showcase local musicians. It also has an aggressive social media effort that officials hope will allow them to capture the interest of people thinking about visiting Minnesota.
"This new campaign is a movement that will highlight unique Minnesota attractions and engage consumers in conversation about Minnesota travel," said John Edman, CEO of Explore Minnesota. "This cutting-edge campaign allows our state to be more competitive and grow tourism across Minnesota."
Tourism officials are trying to get an edge locally as states such as Wyoming, Michigan and Wisconsin are spending millions to lure Minnesotans there.
Without an aggressive campaign, Edman said, Minnesota would lose out to those other states, many of which have larger tourism budgets.
The new campaign, the most expensive tourism push in state history, is designed to help Minnesota hold and expand what is already a $12.5 billion industry employing more than 245,000 workers.
Tourism officials are paying for the new campaign from a 65 percent increase in their funding authorized in Dayton's budget.
"We have a great state and so much to offer," Dayton said.
Tourism officials said research shows that travelers want to experience something new when they travel, which is why they created the theme, "Only in Minnesota." The ads showcase Minnesota's iconic landmarks, outdoor adventures and cultural amenities.
Tourism officials are encouraging visitors to share photos and Minnesota travel experiences on Twitter, Facebook and other social media by using the hashtag #OnlyinMN. Some of the images will be featured in future billboards or sent out via social media.
Explore Minnesota has also revamped its website, making it more user-friendly and functional for smartphones. The website features vivid images and a live-chat function where visitors can ask questions about Minnesota destinations and get immediate, real-time answers.
The website overhaul was part of Dayton's initiative to have state agencies revamp communication with the public to make it more useful and easy to understand.
"We have seen tremendous growth in visitor site traffic through mobile devices," Edman said. "We need to meet travelers where they are, and that means being accessible on mobile devices and social media."