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Alum Terry Mattson helps bring tall ships, big crowds to town

Posted on Jul 25, 2013
Former UW-Superior Yellowjacket basketball player leads Tall Ships to the Twin Ports of Duluth-Superior.
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Terry Mattson, CEO of Visit Duluth and 1984 UW-Superior graduate. Photo: Visit Duluth

Terry Mattson, CEO of Visit Duluth and 1984 UW-Superior graduate. Photo: Visit Duluth

He sure knows how to draw a crowd.

UW-Superior 1984 graduate Terry Mattson has been a leader in his field of tourism and hospitality, winning awards recently for his work for attracting tourists to the Twin Ports area following the severe floods that rocked the area in June 2012.

He is also played a big part in the Tall Ships returning to the Twin Ports again this summer, when 200,000 fans visited.

Mattson has nearly three decades of experience marketing Duluth's hospitality industry, including 23 years as the president and CEO of Visit Duluth. His leadership has helped Duluth's tourism tax revenues increase in 22 of the past 23 years while outpacing both state and national economic results. What was an $80 million a year direct local impact in the late 1980s has been pushed to a nearly $800 million industry today.

Mattson said the lessons he learned at UW-Superior were valuable to him and his career. "My four years at UW-Superior helped me develop key skills and values. An education in business administration and journalism opened doors. And the activities from Yellowjacket basketball to editor of the Promethean expanded my experiences. There was so much opportunity to be hands-on, exercise creativity and build tenacity."

When the Tall Ships event started, Mattson had skeptics. "Some thought it was a crazy idea that wouldn't work financially but we stunned a lot of folks in 2008. Two years later we produced the single largest event in northern Minnesota's history with weekend attendance rivaling the state fair. We brought travelers from 42 states and four provinces. It pumped about $15 million into the local economy and a tidal wave of publicity that resonates today. It's the greatest spectacle on Lake Superior and will be even bigger this year with 10 tall ships. For 200,000 fans, just a glimpse of these grand vessels evokes deep emotion and puts smiles on a lot of faces."

In the middle of all of the action, you will find Mattson.

"My goal has always been to stay in this area," he said. "I've never wanted to live anywhere else and recognize its potential." Mattson was honored twice this year for his work following the floods of 2012. The unprecedented rainfall and flash flooding of June 20, 2012 left an immediate mark on Duluth, Minnesota and its neighboring towns.

Amid the damage, many feared the local hospitality industry would take a massive perception hit. But local citizens and leaders came together, acting fast and working hard to make sure would-be summer visitors knew that Duluth was open for business.

Mattson was recognized with a 2012 Vision Award for Leadership that celebrates professionals who demonstrate best practices over the past year. Mattson was presented with the award September 27 in Minneapolis, and the award is bestowed for calling others into action and making an impact.

It's exactly what Mattson did in the aftermath of the storm, immediately working with city, state and federal officials to create a unified message that the city's tourism infrastructure was undamaged and ready for business. The slogan, "Duluth is open for you" was created and infused into a strategic communications plan for traditional and social media.

In countless news interviews, the message of reassuring travelers that they could still come to Duluth had to be carefully crafted so as not to minimize the significant damage that had occurred to residential areas and surrounding communities.

It paid off, according to one indicator: Duluth tourism tax collections increased by five percent in July 2012 over July 2011-despite the storm and its publicity aftermath.

Mattson knew something had to be done quickly and he and his staff responded. "It took immediate proactive work with city, state and federal constituencies," he said. "We needed to quickly reassure travelers they didn't have to adjust their plans but also needed to craft messages with care as not to minimize the substantial damage to residential areas and surrounding communities. The loss of tourism business would have been devastating financially. Decisive leadership and a collective voice along with the 'Duluth is open for you' campaign led to a record year."

"Terry Mattson leads with a passion and desire to serve the best interests of our community," said Anna Tanski, Visit Duluth director of sales and marketing. "He opened clear channels of communication between industry stakeholders and multiple agencies. He gathered input and feedback, and then set a plan in motion based on one collective voice. Without his proactive leadership, the negative impact to Duluth's tourism industry could have been devastating."

In February, Mattson was also named Minnesota's "Outstanding Individual in Tourism," by Explore Minnesota Tourism office. The prestigious honor was bestowed in appreciation and recognition of outstanding service and dedication to the Minnesota tourism industry.

The award is the top state honor for Minnesota's nearly $12 billion industry, and reflects Mattson's long time role driving tourism success in Duluth, northern Minnesota, and throughout the state.

News Contact: Tom Hansen | 715-394-8260 | thansen7{atuws}
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