The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 24, 2013

Progress 2013: As a tourist attraction, holiday lights were a bright spot

MANKATO — Mankato tourism in 2012 was all about the tried (the third annual Mankato Marathon), the true (the always well-attended Minnesota Vikings training camp) and the new kid on the block.

The inaugural Kiwanis Holiday Lights display in Sibley Park showed what creative deployment of a million LED lights can do.

The Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s Eve event drew an estimated 100,000 visitors after organizers earlier in the year said they’d hoped to draw 50,000.

“But they blew that out of the water,” Visit Mankato (formerly Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors Bureau) President Anna Thill said of an event that drew crowds from near and far.

“We know we had visitors from all over,” she said, alluding to the many out-of-state license plates that were observed along the drive-by display route.

But did that translate to overnight stays and money spent in town? Thill said that’s harder to discern, particularly because local lodging occupancy rates in November and December were skewed by the opening of the Marriott hotel near River Hills Mall.

As a result, Thill said sheer occupancy rates at individual lodging places for that period registered lower, though she surmises the opening of the new hotel simply spread lodgers more thinly.

Meantime, lodging occupancy rates overall in 2012 came in at 56 percent, a 4 percent increase over the previous year.

The other big hitters in local tourism included the largest: Vikings training camp lasting about two weeks, and the fall Mankato Marathon, which is looking to hit the 5,000-participant mark this year.

Thill said a new wrinkle this year — early-bird registration discount offerings — is helping propel the marathon toward that goal.

And to prime the runners’ pumps, so to speak, the CVB is promoting a spate of spring fun runs to get people in the group-running mood.

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