Gov. Tim Walz on Monday appointed Lauren Bennett McGinty as the new director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. She takes over the role as the industry continues to rebound from the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bennett McGinty replaces former director John Edman, who retired in June after holding the job for more than two decades under four governors.

"I am honored to take on this important role as our tourism industry continues to work its way out of the pandemic. As we face challenges on our path to a new normal, we need to find creative ways to engage intra and interstate travelers," Bennett McGinty said in a statement. "I am committed to listening to the needs of tourism partners across Minnesota to deliver the best hospitality in the country and help travelers discover the unique experiences that exist in our great state."

Explore Minnesota is the state's official tourism office, creating campaigns to inspire people to visit and travel across the state. But the industry was hit hard by travel restrictions in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

Travel spending in Minnesota decreased by $8.6 billion in 2020, according to state estimates. Leisure and hospitality employment decreased to an estimated 202,000 jobs, a 27% drop from 2019.

For the last decade, Bennett McGinty worked in various roles with Minnesota nonprofits, most recently as executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. In that position she directed strategic planning, marketing and events for more than 160 breweries.

Walz said Bennett McGinty's marketing background will help boost Minnesota tourism after the pandemic.

"She will bring her expertise in marketing to engage our residents and attract new visitors and talent to our state," he said in a statement.

Her appointment is effective Nov. 15.

Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042