A Tourism Campaign Centered on a Lack of Tourists

The campaign comes in the midst of a tourism upswing for the state, which saw a 4.1 percent increase in visitors from 2017 to 2018.

The campaign comes in the midst of a tourism upswing for the state, which saw a 4.1 percent increase in visitors from 2017 to 2018. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

In its 2020 advertising campaign, North Dakota urges travelers to "follow your curiosity—not the crowds," a nod to the state's wide-open landscape and sparsely populated attractions.

North Dakota is home to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, 63 wildlife refuges, the country’s largest natural grassland—and one of its sparsest populations, with roughly 11 people per square mile. 

It’s not a hub for vacationers, but the state’s tourism arm sees that as a potential asset. A new advertising campaign, unveiled this month, highlights North Dakota’s swaths of open space, using the theme, “Follow your curiosity, not the crowds.”

The slogan, part of a broader 2020 advertising strategy, came after state officials heard complaints of overcrowding at popular tourist spots in other states and the resulting irritation from residents who live near them.

“Areas are really needing to show the value and the impact of visitors to the economy in order to compensate for some of the frustrations that residents are having with seeing so many visitors,” said Sara Otte Coleman, head of the tourism division of the North Dakota Department of Commerce. “That’s the exact opposite of what you’re going to find in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here, you’re going to find all the fresh air and all the space to take in the outdoors that you’re ever going to want.”

Using a tourism campaign to highlight the state’s relative lack of visitors may seem counterintuitive, but Otte Coleman said it was an easy choice.

“People are tired of crowds. They don’t want to be hiking and be back to back with people, and they don’t want to have to wait in line everywhere they go,” she said. “There’s no research that compares actual visitation from state to state, but we know that we’re in the bottom third, and that’s a sales advantage.”

The campaign comes in the midst of a tourism uptick for North Dakota, which saw 1 million trips and 22.6 million visitors in 2018, a 4.1% increase over the year before. Visitors to the state spent roughly $3 billion in that same time period, an increase of about $150 million from 2017.

“By the standards of some major states, that may not seem like that much, but it’s about the same as the visitation you’d get in some of the major destination cities, like Washington D.C.,” Otte Coleman said. “Those are strong numbers for us.”

Most of North Dakota’s visitors come from nearby states, including Wisconsin, Illinois and, especially, Minnesota. The new advertising campaign will feature most heavily in those areas, along with the nearby Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and will run for a minimum of two years.

“The more that we can showcase the quality of life and the quality of our attractions to our visitors, it helps elevate and improve the awareness of the state overall,” Otte Coleman said. “And we’re really seeing that pay off.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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