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State launches largest-ever tourism ad campaign by highlighting 'Only in Minnesota' getaways

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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Say goodbye to "More to Explore." Minnesota tourism promoters ushered in a new slogan Thursday that focuses on "Only in Minnesota" experiences as part of their largest-ever advertising campaign.

The revamped message kicks off a major push to get vacationers to spend their time and dollars in Minnesota. Lawmakers significantly boosted the state's tourism promotion budget. New television ads make up $3.7 million of the effort and run through June. They're paired with billboards and a heavy emphasis on social media geared at a younger audience.

Four fast-paced TV ads play up characteristically Minnesota getaways. There are ample nods to outdoorsy destinations and fine dining. Images of art museums, cityscapes and recognizable landmarks such as the Spam Museum and Red Wing's oversized boot are included. "It's modern. It's classic. It's totally you. And it's only in Minnesota," the narrator in one ad says.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who ran the state's economic development department in the 1970s when it first embarked on tourism promotion, endorsed the new theme during a news conference showing off the main television spot.

"We do have such extraordinary features here, opportunities here, vacations here and you can find them only in Minnesota," Dayton said.

The ads will run in 14 states and Canadian provinces. Six states are new to Minnesota outreach efforts. They are Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

At the Mall of America, one of Minnesota's most popular attractions, executives are expecting the campaign to bolster promotional efforts that already make it a global destination.

"Marketing is about staying in front of people — reminding them that you are here, reminding them that you are cool," the mall's executive vice-president Maureen Baush said.

Tourism is a $12.5 billion a year industry in Minnesota. Explore Minnesota director John Edman said the agency has a goal of increasing that to $20 billion by 2020. In the short term, officials are relying on a $14 million annual budget, which is 66 per cent more than it was a year ago. The amount of money Minnesota devotes to tourism promotion still trails Wisconsin, Missouri and some other states in the region.

Edman said between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the ad budget is aimed outside of Minnesota, while the remainder is used to remind residents of things to do in their own backyard.

Jim Benson, operations director at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, said he likes the emphasis on luring out-of-state visitors because they tend to stay longer and spend more money than people from nearby who tend to escape for a long weekend.

"Right now it's primarily the metro area where our guests come from," Benson said. "What we're finding is that as we push the marketing out, we get more and more of the Des Moines market and the Kansas City market."

There was a hint of irony that the campaign launched the day after a spring storm dumped more than a foot of snow in some places, which prompted only-in-Minnesota shrugs from residents and ridicule from people far away.

Edman laughed it off.

"We don't run away from our weather, we try to embrace it," Edman said.

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