Talking Tourism: Make Your Voice Smile | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: June 2017

Talking Tourism: Make Your Voice Smile | by Linda Jurek

Our visitors travel to Cook County for many reasons.  For several decades, we have been a premier vacation destination and a number of those once a year visitors seek to make northeastern Minnesota their home.  Whether our visitors travel here to disconnect or to immerse themselves in art, culinary delights, a BWCAW paddle, or an athletic event, the customer experience ranks high.

Clearly, what we are doing is working. As spring turns to summer, we transition into very high traffic season including people, bikes, and vehicles. We all feel it whether you work in hospitality or the hospital ER or are just trying to cross the highway. There simply are more people here. A recent branding survey conducted by Visit Cook County positions the kindness of people as a top three reason to return to our area.  That makes me feel good and it should you as well.

As long ago as I can remember, we’ve welcomed our visitors.  Dan Helmerson, Info Center employee extraordinaire, shares weekly historic photos and fascinating facts on his personal Facebook album “Cook County Nostalgia Too” and it is very clear, we have been a community of welcoming our guests for over 70 years.

I know the days and nights get long but imagine never seeing new faces or hiring a diverse employee pool with our international workers. When it comes to a customer’s experience, all of us can get the big things right but it is the little things that differentiate one favorite employee from another or one business choice over the next. The book Hospitality From the Heart explains a key additive.  Yup, you guessed it.  Heart.  The book explained that if we engage with heart the results will show improved employee engagement, better morale, extraordinary service, customer loyalty and of course, increased profits.  Attentiveness and recognition cost absolutely nothing.  Add a little personalization and boom, your visitor will return and more importantly pass along a positive recommendation regarding the wonderful experience in Cook County.

I close with a quote from Maya Angelou – “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”


Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism: Making Headlines via Marketing | By Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: May 2017

Talking Tourism: Making Headlines via Marketing | By Linda Jurek

Let’s set the record straight!  As I discussed in last month’s article, our local economy is supported by over 80% tourism.  For all the reasons we choose to live here, our visitors choose to visit.  Winning awards places us on the state and national radar and bringing people here to visit is the primary goal of our organization.  I’d like to touch on some of the awards we’ve recently won and how there is significant benefit to Cook County.

Visitors hear about our community from a number of sources. I often ask people those questions and the conversations are rewarding. Their answers vary, from coming here as a child to seeing one of our billboards in downtown Minneapolis, but it’s always fun to learn why people are visiting.  Based on these casual conversations, we feel strongly that one of the reasons new visitors often choose to visit is from word of mouth from a friend, social media or article in their favorite publication. Looking at the significant increase in lodging tax the last few years, we believe the media exposure we earned by winning the Budget Travel “America’s Coolest Small Town” award in 2015 plays a significant role in the increase.

Since bringing visitors here and maximizing our tourism traffic is a key goal for Visit Cook County, we do not shy away from the nominations we receive. The publicity from Budget Travel’s “America’s Coolest Small Town” award of 2015 and the most recent award of Best Small Midwestern Town by USA Today have proven their benefits already by creating a media synergy that has lead to more accolades. Within one week of winning small Midwestern town, we are mentioned here:

In addition, we have been ranked as a top destination for hiking, paddling, eating, rock skipping, moose viewing, etc. You get the picture. We also have been recognized by Explore MN with five awards during the past two years.  These awards have been newsworthy resulting in regional and national media attention.  These public relation gems have integrated seamlessly into our robust marketing efforts.

“Working with Visit Cook County is truly enjoyable. We have the good fortune of marketing one of the most beautiful tourism destinations in the world, and we have gotten some tremendous results during the past three years,” said Pascha Apter, CEO of Giant Voices in Duluth.

In addition to an economic boom, community pride blossoms following award wins. While I’m not going to try and convert those of you that dislike these contests, I will challenge you to think a little outside of the box. We’ve had people complain on social media as well as tell us directly that we need to stop this publicity  “No more people.”  It’s important to understand that the services we enjoy 12 months a year are supported by visitor dollars and the increased economic boost assures financial health during the slower seasons. I stand prepared to wait in a longer line, search an extra minute for a parking place and wait and wave at the pedestrians crossing the highway waving their orange crossing flags. Grateful appreciation is where I am at.  Join me?

We recently conducted a tagline and branding survey.  We asked people what they loved about Northeastern Minnesota and how would they describe our location.  Guess what?  In the top three loves – it is the people!  The friendliness and welcoming personalities of local Cook County residents makes visitors feel at home here. Now that makes me sing with pride.  Thanks local businesses, thanks community, and thanks to you!

Now buckle up!  Summer is upon us.

For more goodness, check out these recent articles:

Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism: What does Visit Cook County do? | By Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: April 2017

Talking Tourism: What does Visit Cook County do? | By Linda Jurek

Have you ever found yourself wondering what does Visit Cook County do?  Where do they get their financial support for all this marketing?  Or maybe you’ve wondered, who is this who is responsible for attracting all of these visitors to our town causing such an economic boom. Welcome to Talking Tourism, a new monthly article aimed at providing insight into our organization and the impact of tourism in Cook County written for the Cook County News Herald.

As the executive director for Visit Cook County, I am pleased to be tasked with our first segment.  You can expect to hear from other members of the Visit Cook County team as well as marketing partners and board members.  We hope to provide a clearer picture of our organization, its structure, and our goals.

Because industry jargon, acronyms plague our business. We are trying to demystify who is VCC (formerly known as CCVB or CCEVB). Here is a short list of what we are, what we are not and how closely we are related to some our sister organizations.

  • We ARE a destination marketing organization. Our mission is to build brand recognition of the region and increase lodging tax dollars.
  • We are NOT a chamber of commerce. We DO support local tourism business but are not a policy driven organization.
  • We are NOT a part of county government. We are an independent 501(c) 6 not-for-profit organization that is governed by a board of directors that derives from the local lodging associations.
  • We are NOT the Economic Development Authority (EDA). The EDA is tasked with helping to diversify the economy by assisting in businesses development and workforce sustainability issues.

Nearly everything is impacted by tourism and when the leaves drop from the trees and many want to lock the gate at the county line, we must realize that our economy is 85% tourism based.  That has not changed is significantly for many years.  The allure of our area remains imbedded in the hearts of many.

Like I previously stated, Visit Cook County is a destination marketing organization (DMO).  Originally, founded as the Cook County Events and Visitors Bureau (CCEVB) we transitioned to Cook County Visitors Bureau (CCVB), neither of those titles accurately described who we were until we became VISIT Cook County – the regional DMO.  Not every DMO is a convention and visitor bureau (CVB) as is the case with Cook County.  Because we do not have large meeting facilities, we do not focus our marketing efforts on bringing large conventions to our corner of the state.

How are we supported?  Lodging properties in the Cook County lodging tax district (from Schroeder to Grand Portage) are required by Minnesota State statute to collect lodging tax for any short-term nightly rental. This includes hotels and resorts but also independent VRBO’s, canoe outfitters and B&B’s.  We are required to have the lodging tax collections be processed by the auditor’s office and the amount of tax collected by each property is confidential.  The lodging properties select their payment schedule (monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, etc.) We also offer marketing opportunities via our website, visitor guide, and information center that any local business is welcome to participate in. What do we do the dollars collected?  We market to potential visitors!!

We continue to hone our skills and while we do partner with a marketing agency and media relations firm, we know how important it is for our community to embrace what we do.  More importantly, we need to love our visitors.  They are the bread and butter for many.

Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek

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Find your perfect escape this upcoming season with 7 great winter travel destinations

Find your perfect escape this upcoming season with 7 great winter travel destinations. As seen in Star Tribune Magazine October 2017.

Fall’s an easy sell. Once it rolls out those showy colors, people think nothing of traveling miles to watch it unfold. Winter, though, is a mixed bag — with many wanting to jet off farther afield. Here are some choice destinations to help satisfy your seasonal wanderlust. By Berit Thorkelson

Grand Marais, Minn.

You really should get extra “true Minnesotan” points for visiting Grand Marais in winter.

Sure, it’s cold, and some businesses shut down or run on limited hours, but dress for the weather and reap your reward. Among the grand potentials: Frozen waterfalls, Northern Lights dancing across the dark winter sky and a Lake Superior so stunningly furious you get the sense that you might benefit from a life jacket even while standing on shore.

Other draws are more reliable, such as classes on kick-sled building or lefse-making at North House Folk School, all of the winter sports, and a high concentration of cozy public fireplaces, such as Voyageur Brewing Company’s slate-stone wood-burning beaut, which holds craft beer and fireside knitting sessions during Hygge Festival in February. Word is you get double true Minnesotan points for that one.

Where to stay: Try East Bay Suites, right on Lake Superior. Bonus: The suites’ kitchens and nearby co-op make a great combo during the quiet winter season.

Worth noting: Among the many Cook County fall and winter festivals: The Lake Superior Storm Festival, with speakers on the legendary Gales of November.

Read the full story here:

Star Tribune by Berit Thorkelson

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Newly renovated golf course opens to public

Newly renovated golf course opens to public

The newly-renovated Canyon 9 golf course at Superior National in Lutsen opened for play on Thursday.

 It was the last phase of a $4.5 million improvement plan to enhance the 27-hole course. Superior National opened in 1992 and is owned by the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Association.
Canyon 9 is the second golf course redevelopment project at Lutsen. In 2014, work began on the River 9 course, which was completed in 2016. A grand opening at the growing recreational complex is scheduled for next spring.
Business North

Newly renovated Canyon 9 course opens for limited play at Superior National Golf Course on September 7, 2017.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Newly renovated Canyon 9 course opens for limited play at Superior National Golf Course on September 7, 2017.

Lutsen, Minn. – August 17, 2017 – The much anticipated newly-renovated Canyon 9 course at Superior National at Lutsen is opening for play on September 7, 2017. This is the last phase of a $4.5 million improvement plan to enhance the 27-hole course.

Superior National Golf Course opened in 1992. It quickly became known as one of the premier destination golf courses in Minnesota. The Lake Superior adjacent 27-hole championship course with nearly 6,900 yards of sloping fairways and grand elevation changes earned it the title of “#1 Public Golf Course in Minnesota” by Golf Digest magazine. After several years of superior play, renovations began in 2014 on the River 9 course.

The multi-phased improvement project was designed by renowned golf course architect Jeffrey Brauer. The improvements to the courses include “Ohio’s Best” white sand, five sets of tees, wider fairways and idyllic greens. The new tee box design offers beginner friendly forward tees as well as an opportunity for a greater challenge to the veteran long-hitting golfer with extended back tees.

The River 9 course was completed in 2016 and play will be from River to Canyon. Advanced reservations for tee times are recommended due to popular demand.  Conditions of daily play will be determined by management as growth of the new turf will be monitored closely. The Mountain 9 course is also open for play through October. A grand opening for the completed project is scheduled for the spring of 2018.

Book your tee times and Stay and Play packages online at

Superior National at Lutsen is owned by the Cook County/Grand Marais EDA whose mission is to diversify the economy, create employment through retention and expansion of existing businesses and development of new businesses, support the development of housing and increase the tax base.


Media contact:

Heath Ekstrom, 218-663-7195

Superior National Golf Course aerial view

Media contact: Heath Ekstrom | Ph# 218-663-7195 | email: