Fred Walker started with North Dakota Tourism in February 2003. Prior to this position, he was the marketing and sales manager for Jamestown Promotion and Tourism. Fred served on the board of the ND Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, including serving as its president.
During this time, he has seen the impact of the oil boom and an expanded effort to attract international visitors and work with international inbound tour operators.
What’s happening in North Dakota?
North Dakota has experienced ups and downs with the economy that are a little different than other areas. There has been a huge oil boom in the last 7 to 8 years. In those first few years, the challenge was limited lodging available and almost none for the last-minute traveler.
As the boom progressed, more single-family homes, apartments and hotels were built. New property became available for short-term rentals. All over the state, there are now thousands of new rooms. The boom has slowed somewhat, so there are new affordable rooms with all the amenities. This is especially true in western North Dakota, the location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park within the North Dakota badlands. This area is 244,000 acres of rugged beauty and one of the world’s richest fossil beds.
What draws international visitors to North Dakota?
We initially started to focus on international visitors about 20 years ago – specifically Norway and Germany because that’s the heritage of our residents. International visitors are drawn to the beautiful scenery. We have good roads and not a lot of traffic, which makes it ideal for RV rentals.
We also celebrate cultures with events like the United Tribes International Powwow in Bismarck. It is one of the largest gatherings of Native American singers, dancers and drummers in the country. In addition, we have the Norsk Høstfest, a four-day event that draws 75,000 people to our state fair center in Minot. This celebration of Scandinavian culture started 39 years ago in a church basement and features food, entertainment and concerts on three stages.
Each community has its own festival, and travelers can go from town to town to enjoy them. People here understand the close ties to those communities from which their families emigrated.
What markets come to North Dakota?
We have focused on all the Nordic countries for many years, but we also work with Rocky Mountain International. It’s a consortium of four states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming – that focuses on marketing to countries ranging from Australia and New Zealand to the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Benelux and Germany.
How do you work with ITOs?
We do a lot of education when working with operators to inform them of where we are, train staff and provide images and itineraries. We also can help tie in trips to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Denver.
In addition, we have hosted familiarization (FAM) trips so media and the travel trade can see the attractions for themselves. Even at the height of the season, we have good partners who are willing to work with them.
We continue to try to learn more about working with the international inbound operators to grow those relationships so we have a better understanding of what they need and also to educate our partners.