Faces of resorts change with time

ST. PAUL (AP) —Resorts across the state are revamping the way do business to keep up with the pace of their competitors and changing consumer tastes.
Year by year, Minnesota vacationers are doing more than the fishing trip, the camping weekend and the short escape to a North Woods cabin. Resorts are answering with everything from family reunion lodges and pricey golf courses to inexpensive camper cabins. And they’re using themed getaways and Internet marketing to lure more vacationers.
“Most resort operators are finding that their markets are changing,” said Steve Markuson, director of the Minnesota Office of Tourism.
About 1,200 resorts remain in the state, down from a peak of nearly twice that number several decades ago, he said. But guest capacity remains about the same, reflecting the expansion of surviving resorts and the creation of newer, larger competitors.
Helen Raasch needed three years to persuade her husband to close the profitable restaurant at their Bay Colony Inn Resort near Nisswa. They gave up a liquor license and turned the former eating establishment into a two-story, 3,500-square-foot lodge. It sleeps 32 people for family gatherings.
“I was listening to what people were asking me for when they called,” she said.
Year-round casinos were draining the seasonal labor pool, making it difficult to attract and keep employees. It took 17 people to work two shifts at the restaurant but their converted Reunion House requires only five employees.
Since the conversion three years ago, the Raasches’ Reunion House has yielded $30,000 more in annual profits than the restaurant.
Michael Tronnes, owner of Papoose Bay Lodge near Park Rapids, said that reunions are one way to counter competition from casinos, the Mall of America and popular vacation destinations such as Branson, Mo.
Golfers come in groups, too, and tourism officials expect more plush courses to give the state another nationally marketable attraction.
In the Brainerd area, 63 golf holes have been added in the past eight years and 72 more are expected in the next year or two.
Some new courses charge fees of up to $95 per 18-hole round on weekends. Older courses charge $20 to $30 a round.
Bill Moseley, director of golf at Grand View Lodge and the Pines, near Nisswa, said, “We’ll be able to market this area to Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico — all those hot, hot states.” And while $90 greens fees are high for Minnesota, “our high end is much less than the high end in Arizona, where you’re looking at $170,” he said.
About 23 have been built in Minnesota state parks, and most KOA campgrounds in the state offer at least a few. Susan Poss, who runs a KOA in Woodbury, said her five units are constantly booked.
On the promotions end of the business, Markuson, the state tourism director, said that using the Internet to promote resorts is an increasingly important marketing tactic.
Gary Nelson of WesLake Resort near Underwood, said he has maintained a two-page Web site for two years.