The 20 bloggers who explored the Mankato area at the invitation of Visit Mankato on Saturday are an example of a new kind of travel writer; they use Instagram and other social media to highlight places around Minnesota that are often overlooked.
InstaMeets allow writers and Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) across the state to promote bloggers, photographers and communities. It’s a symbiotic relationship in which smaller cities like Mankato can boost tourism by promoting the travel writers who promote the city.
While Visit Mankato has fostered relationships with individual travel writers, Saturday’s event marked the first InstaMeet in Mankato where an entire group of writers and bloggers put a spotlight on the area at the same time. Greta Alms of Lake Crystal helped organize Saturday’s InstaMeet. She’s been a travel blogger and photographer for nearly a decade.
“Instagram brings together people who love photography, who love visual experiences,” Alms said. “An InstaMeet is an opportunity for that community to come together. It brings that online social media platform to life.”
Alms helped organize an InstaMeet in New Ulm last year. When she reached out to Carrie Kijenski, marketing and communications director for Visit Mankato, they realized it would be a win-win situation for everyone. Kijenski said Visit Mankato has been looking at new ways to attract visitors to the area.
“This year we had a new initiative to start working with travel bloggers and writers from all over,” she said.
Kijenski and Alms decided to focus Saturday’s itinerary on Mankato’s arts and culture. While some of the bloggers were local, most came down from the Twin Cities to see what Mankato has to offer. They viewed Mankato’s murals, took the walking sculpture tour, ate lunch at Pub 500, and toured the historic R.D. Hubbard House and the Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery in Kasota.
Alms has Instagram followers as close as Mankato and as faraway as Spain. She said she hopes to put Mankato on the map for people from afar while shedding light on everything the city has to offer for locals who may overlook what’s right under their nose.
“We went to the Hubbard House, and their gardens are incredible,” Alms said. “There are so many people who don’t realize how gorgeous those gardens are or even what’s inside of the Hubbard House. By seeing the photos that are online, they’re going to want to go in and experience it themselves.”
Alms said that social media apps like Instagram that can personalize those special places.
“Without that visual bait, they wouldn’t normally do it,” she said. “It’s a great way to influence someone’s idea of how cool a place is that they wouldn’t normally think of as cool.”
Kijenski said the most common feedback she received from the visiting Twin Cities-based bloggers was that Mankato has the laid-back atmosphere of a small town while also having the amenities of larger cities like Minneapolis or St. Paul.
“They like Mankato because it’s that big-city feel yet small town,” she said. “There’s so much untapped to Mankato that people don’t know that we have here.”
Minneapolis-based travel and food writers Tasha Dahl and Shaina Olmanson both echoed that sentiment.
“It’s one of the second cities as I say after Minneapolis/St. Paul; you’ve got Rochester, Mankato, St. Cloud, Duluth — those are all cool places to go to because they have breweries, a lot of food options,” Dahl said. “My big thing with Mankato is it’s not a small town and it’s not a big city.”
Dahl had only been to Mankato once before she met her boyfriend, a Mankato native, three years ago. Since then she’s come to Mankato a dozen times. She’s impressed with the growing food, music and art scene. She says she’s been pleasantly surprised with what Mankato has to offer and wants more people in the Twin Cities to take notice.
“I remember coming here and I knew there was a college,” Dahl said. “But I just thought it was a small town. I didn’t know anything about the history of the music scene here and I learned there was a lot of cool stuff happening. I just didn’t realize how much was going on here in any given week. It’s more exciting than people think it is.”
Olmanson, whose husband is from Mankato, also came to appreciate the city. She got married here on her third visit. She said that smaller cities like Mankato offer a sense of community that can’t be replicated in the Twin Cities, where communities are divided up by neighborhoods. Her husband grew up in Mankato at the height of the 1990s music scene that gave the city a national reputation as a go-to place to see shows.
“When you look at the music scene for Mankato, because it’s small they’re so connected,” Olmanson said. “It allows people to be collaborative and network on a different level than you have in the Twin Cities. We were looking at the mural at Bellissimo (Paint and Coatings). They invited the community to participate, Diamond Vogel donated some of the paint. You’re looking at small businesses in downtown Mankato all coming together to do something for the city. Neighborhoods within Minneapolis might do that but you don’t have that whole city integration that you have here.”