BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota is working to extend its contract with Hollywood actor Josh Duhamel to promote tourism in his home state.
Among the least-visited states in the nation, North Dakota’s top tourism official said the 48-year-old star of several “Transformers” movies has been effective in attracting visitors to the state better known for its brutal cold weather than as a vacation destination.
“He has helped expand our image and awareness of our state,” said Sara Otte Coleman, who heads the state’s tourism agency.
Duhamel, a native of Minot, has been the face of North Dakota and its pitchman since 2013. He has been paid more than $1 million from the state since then.
“He’s a great ambassador for our state and cares about where he comes from,” Otte Coleman said.
Duhamel was the honorary chairman of fund that raised millions of dollars for victims of a 2011 flood in his hometown that swamped more than 4,000 homes and businesses. About 11,000 people were forced to evacuate.
The home where Duhamel grew up and his sister and her family’s home were severely damaged. He appealed to his fans on social media and on TV appearances to help the victims of the flood.
His current two-year tourism deal expires in December. Otte Coleman said she expects Duhamel to sign an extension, though she would not disclose the terms of the offer.
The campaigns have featured the former fashion model as just a regular guy doing everything from fishing and biking to attending college football and hockey games. Some also include his son Axl, whose mother is Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie.
The campaign has included TV and print ads, as well as travel and hunting guides.
Ads featuring the actor have mostly appeared in the neighboring states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and the nearby Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Ads also have appeared in the Chicago-area, and Denver, which is home to many North Dakota expatriates, Otte Coleman said.
Tourism is the North Dakota’s third-largest industry, behind energy and agriculture. The biggest draw is Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota’s badlands.
Tourism last year was hurt by the pandemic, though many visitors sought solace hiking and camping in the state’s wide-open spaces, which made tracking them difficult, Otte Coleman said.
North Dakota had 18.7 million visitors in 2020, down 21% from the previous year, agency data show. Visitor spending totaled $2.1 billion, down nearly 32%.