Talking Tourism: Secret Sauce

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: February 2019

Talking Tourism: Secret Sauce | by Kjersti Vick

Last week at the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference in the Twin Cities, Visit Cook County was brought up by our peers as a model that is working. Being industry leaders, Linda was asked to present on a panel of experts discussing “Creating Impactful Events” to a standing room only room. The secret is out, what we are doing is working to drive tourism and awareness to our region.

Visit Cook County was founded in 2010 when the three tourism associations decided to stop competing against each other and combine forces to achieve a greater market share.  In our relatively short history, our region has seen unprecedented growth in lodging tax. While the peak summer months still see the largest influx of lodging tax dollars, the months that have seen the most significant growth from 2011, until 2017 are:

  1. April + 60%
  2. June + 59%
  3. May +58%
  4. October +48%
  5. November +43%

We were tasked with driving traffic during the “shoulder seasons” or times of the year when businesses felt an increase in traffic would be beneficial to sustaining their ability to remain open and therefor sustain their workforce. Our team of marketing experts and the board strategized on what we could do to either convert current guests from peak season to shoulder season visitors and/or attract new market segments.

Enter “Waterfall Season.” Utilizing our natural assets, we changed the perspective of mud season by creating a new season embracing what occurs naturally – the melting of snow and ice on the inland lakes rushing down to Lake Superior. In addition to seeing an increase in visitation, we’ve seen more social media posts about waterfalls and received some significant press in major publications like the Star Tribune. On our website, our waterfall map is one of our most sought after downloads.

Beyond our natural assets, we are unique in another way thanks to our locally collected 1% Events Tax. The events tax has allowed us to be a strategic partner with event producers to both enhance the visitor experience and develop events that will attract new visitors to the region. Major events like the Lutsen99er, is one of the biggest successes. Prior to the Lutsen99er, the month of June was a hit or miss and its success was incredibly weather dependent. Since 2011, in the Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder lodging tax district, June has seen a 64% increase in lodging tax collections. This can be directly attributed to the success of this great event which has also caused a ripple effect of an increased awareness of biking in our community. The result? New single-track mountain bike trails being built as well as new biking events throughout the year.

Because of the foresight of the leadership from our three tourism associations, Visit Cook County has become a premiere Destination Marketing Organization in Minnesota. Our success is one part location and tradition mixed with two parts creative marketing.

2019 Visit Cook County at Explore Mn

Pictured from left to right: Lynn Nelson of LINPR, Kjersti Vick of Visit Cook County MN, Lily Nelson-Pedersen of Visit Cook County, Barb Darland of Giant Voices, and Linda Jurek of Visit Cook County MN

Talking Tourism: What Shoulder Season?

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: December 2018

Talking Tourism: What Shoulder Season? | by Amanda Plummer, Guest Services Director & Marketing Assistant at Lutsen Mountains (Guest Author)

Even though our slopes have been open for a few weekends now, this time of year our community takes a collective deep breath as the pace slows down and the seasons change, this is known to most as a shoulder season. A shoulder season is a travel season between peak and off-peak times, a season that many in travel and tourism have come to greatly appreciate and anticipate. At Lutsen Mountains however, our shoulder season lasts exactly three weeks, and even during that time while we may not have guests onsite the action behind the scenes outpaces even summer.

While thoughts of winter are in the back of our minds year-round, the moment the temperature drops we hit high gear as we prepare our slopes for our winter enthusiasts. First up is our snowmaking and maintenance crews, working around the clock to combine the powers of man and machine to create the core of our business, SNOW. We often post through social media to #thankasnowmaker and I know I don’t do it enough myself. What they create is magic and without it we wouldn’t be able to operate from mid-November through May which is an amazing season in the Snowsports industry! But a larger than life pile of snow isn’t all it takes, first we need to get people to start thinking about winter which can be hard to do when they are thinking of turkey and stuffing which is where marketing comes into play. This time of year, we work to increase our digital reach and our share of the winter market through social media, email and our website. The more eyes we have on Lutsen and our snowmaking now, the more skiers and riders we have as we get into the full swing of operations.

Once they are ready to book, they head online for their ski & stay package. We partner with fifteen area resorts from Schroeder to Grand Marais to offer discounted rates when lift tickets and lodging are bundled together. These partnerships are crucial to winters in Cook County as we all work together to fill our lodging spaces as well as secure the commitment from customers for their time spent on the slopes, in our shops, and in our restaurants. With nearly 100,000 skier visits each season, the ripple effect of these guests and the jobs and families they support become a key economic driver in the community.

As the shoulder season fades, peak season is just around the corner (daily operations resume Friday, December 14th) and our team of 50 core employees has grown to 150 including our seasonal staff to meet the added demands of peak winter. While there is a ton of work behind the scenes, in the end, we are sharing an active winter lifestyle, creating memories and building family traditions. See you on the slopes!

Talking Tourism - guest author- Amanda Plummer of Lutsen Mountains

Talking Tourism – guest author- Amanda Plummer of Lutsen Mountains

Talking Tourism: Knitting Together Education and Tourism

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: November 2018

Talking Tourism: Knitting Together Education and Tourism | by Lily Nelson-Pedersen

As the daughter of an educator, I was taught young to ask questions and derive joy from learning and interacting with the world around me. Growing up in a tourist community like Cook County (and specifically in the lobby of the East Bay–the hotel my family owned) enriching experiences often came from interacting with the guests and visitors who were traveling to our area. It always felt to me that our community was improved by tourism, bringing with each car traveling up Highway 61 new fashions, new ideas, and new interests from what felt like a very distant place.

One problem in our small community can be a lack of resources to bring that far outside world in. Whether those resources are a lack of people, funds, or knowledge, tourism can be an excellent vehicle for bringing opportunities to Cook County. At Visit Cook County, weaving together chances to enhance the lives of our year-round residents and create memorable experiences for our visitors is a win-win.

One way in which we try to do this is with educational programs and events. We provide scholarships to students as a part of the Lutsen 99er bike race, host presentations on Lake Superior storms, and are newly partnering with the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium and Astronomer Joel Halvorson of UMD, all to both create a lasting impression for our visitors and also to use the industry and resources of tourism to enrich the lives of locals. Halvorson is bringing up a traveling planetarium, the GeoDome, and making stops at area schools in Tofte, Grand Portage, and in Grand Marais over the week of December 10th – 14th.  Halvorson owns a cabin on the Gunflint Trail, which he visits often, and has big visions for future Dark Sky events and education in Cook County.

My job as Event Resource Coordinator brings with it the privilege of getting to knit together these two worlds of education and tourism, to share with guests to our area and the locals a love for learning and joy from new discovery–just as I did as a child. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be in the position of helping to create and facilitate more of these experiences for all who call Cook County home, even if it’s only “home” for a few days.

Talking Tourism: The Power of Networking | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: October 2018

Talking Tourism: The Power of Networking | by Linda Jurek

Whether you choose to network at Java Moose over coffee or at one of your favorite watering holes, sharing your business ideas or common interests has been part of our communication processes for what seemingly could be forever. In fact, it is proven that prehistoric man returned to the same location to draw in order to seek comfort, share their stories with a deep desire to connect with others.  The same drawings of the cave walls were also transposed onto earthenware. Was this early social media?

I happen to be of the age where I remember my first Grand Marais home phone number, the rotary phone as well “party lines” and let’s not forget the introduction of the long phone line which allowed a person to venture at least 20 feet from the phone mounted on the kitchen wall. With the surge of social media allowing us to connect via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., the value of a good old face to face may have slipped into the shadows.  But I disagree.

Networking is an experience that might be overstated but is truly a necessity.  If you describe yourself as an introvert, you may also hear yourself saying “I hate networking”.  I like to think of networking with some clear goals in mind. Ask yourself what is it that I want to learn from that person? Make a point of listening and identifying common interests. If you find that common interests aren’t jumping to the surface, think about what you can add to conversation. During my time at the Duluth Chamber, we actually hosted Networking 101 which allowed new and seasoned professionals to connect, meet and share their stories. Being a major extrovert, I often found myself running around and introducing attendees to each other; finding the common link for continued conversation and learning.

And now, while we might not host many formal networking opportunities in our communities, they do exist. Visit Cook County and the Cook County Chamber are happy to host the Fall Gala each year. We have been told time and time again how much people enjoy the opportunity to visit (network) with community members. The Gala includes a social hour, dinner, and music and also allows the opportunity for you to network with local business stakeholders as well as state legislators. We’re excited to host John Edman, Executive Director of Explore MN, as our featured speaker for the event. He will provide us with impactful tourism highlights from around the state.

You won’t want to miss this annual networking opportunity scheduled for Tuesday, October 23rd at 5:30pm at the newly renovated Grand Portage Lodge and Casino. There is still time to register and you can find registration information, lodging and shuttle details on our website at


Talking Tourism: For the love of Autumn

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: September 2018

Talking Tourism: For the love of Autumn | by Kjersti Vick

As we roll from the crazy days of summer into the peak weekends for fall colors, we notice a shift in the air and it’s not just the temperature. Time slows down and so do our visitors. While the kids are back in school, the adults will play. From gallery hopping and romantic dinners to wine tasting and leaf looking – autumn is the most anticipated season of the year.

Along with the more relaxed visitor, we see an increase in cultural tourists and we market events to match their interests. The Art Along The Lake Fall Studio Tour, which kicks off September 28 and runs for 10-days, features over 20 different artists who open up their home studios to the public. It is truly inspiring to see the space in which they create. What could be better than local art inspired by a place you love and viewing the fall colors?!

Cook County lives in the hearts of many. As the marketing manager for Visit Cook County, I spend a lot of time engaging with our social media audience. Reading the comments from our followers is both very informative and fun. The stories really start pouring in when I post a photo from one of Cook County’s many iconic landmarks. Everything from “I remember going there with my parents” to “I proposed to my girlfriend here!” A common thread we see is couples posting about how they had their first vacation together as a couple here. I’m going out on a limb here but Cook County might be the best relationship test there is; if you love it here as much as I do, then we are meant to be together.

This August we hosted a contest “Weddings of the North” to find those who dared to take their love of Cook County to the next level by getting married in their favorite destination. We had dozens of submissions and the Top 9 images will be printed in our upcoming 2019 Visitor Guide, due out in mid-October. What was most interesting was seeing the different venues people chose. Some opted for lavish resort based weddings, while others had intimate dock side ceremonies. No matter the size of the wedding party, all emphasized the beauty of the area and the warm memories are what made them choose Cook County to be their third partner.

Whether you’re celebrating your anniversary, traveling with your family, embarking on a solo adventure – you are not alone in your love of fall travel. If you need ideas on how to make the most of fall, visit our website for fall color maps, must-see sites, and complete list of events at

Talking Tourism: Walk with me, talk with me

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: August 2018

Talking Tourism: Walk with me, talk with me | by Anna Klobuchar

Most often than not, a visitor comes through the door, and you can easily strike up interesting and engaging conversations with them.  Ralph Engel came into the Grand Marais visitor center on a deep cold winter’s day two years ago, and we chatted about all there is to see and do in Cook County.  Over an hour later, he left with a stack of printed materials in his hands, and three days later, he called and explained he is owner of RJ Tours and Travel, and asked if I would join the bus tour he would be bringing to our area that summer.  I did. And it was a blast.

This year, a group is again coming to visit, and we will spend one day on the Gunflint Trail, and one day in Grand Portage and also visit High Falls.  As the bus travels, we chat about the area, and I have the privilege of answering any questions they may have as we visit various locations.  One important skill I learned is to have the ability to change things up on the fly, and play off the energy of the group.  Conversely, your attendees will likely feed off your energy as well. And what’s great about accompanying a group is being able to share your own knowledge, experience, and personal anecdotes to the tour.  If you really love what you do, you easily pass that passion onto the guest and they feel it too.  Anyone can memorize and recite facts.  But when you hop on the bus with them, and you share your enthusiasm, that tour will feel particularly special for the guest who is looking for a genuine experience outside those of the typical tourist attractions. Drive by sightseeing is not standard with this group, as they want the time to experience the destination – the flavors, the cultures, and the sights.  And we cover the terrain! From Chik Wauk Museum, in our beautiful borderland, to hopping on the sunset gondola ride at Lutsen Mountains, they want to experience the history and beauty of the area.    On the last day, the group has the time to relax on their own, and enjoy Grand Marais at their leisure.

The tour directors have an entirely different level of responsibility. I gained respect for the level of planning that must go on behind the scenes. Directors would not be able to function if they were not extremely punctual, exceedingly detail oriented, and very, very organized.  From menus to mileage, secured reservations to site restrictions, contract obligations to head counts, the director is meticulous with the itinerary and mother hen to their guests.

Travel is an adventurous education that enriches our lives.  It is an honor – and a whole lot of fun – being able to enhance a visitor’s travel experience by joining them.  Last year, as we were leaving the Grand Portage National Monument, one of the park service employees, dressed in character, spontaneously serenaded us with her fiddle as she walked us to where we were gathering at the bus.  Special touches like that make this place unforgettable, and keep them coming back for more!

Talking Tourism: Keeping Cool Up North

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: July 2018

Talking Tourism: Keeping Cool Up North | by Linda Jurek

The seagulls are making noise outside my window and the fan is blowing trying to cool the office. I’m a firm believer that we northern Minnesotans do not need air conditioning. Along with the warmth of late July, you will notice the leaves are turning from the spring filled luster of green to their mid-summer hue; a little less brilliant. We are celebrating harvest season and the biggest blueberry contest has become a local and visitor competition like no other. I’ve been told the berry season is one of the most abundant in decades. The contest runs until August 11th with multiple weigh stations along the Gunflint Trail and you don’t have to have the biggest berry to win a prize.

With the buzz of summer is at high throttle in Cook County, your marketing team at Visit Cook County is always looking for new opportunities. Many of our visitors travel here to enjoy the dark skies and a chance to view the auroras. In fact, it is one of the most visited pages on our website. We are looking forward to partnering with the University of Minnesota and welcoming the Dark Sky Caravan and their traveling planetarium. The planetarium is a mobile digital display. Imagine yourself traveling to the universe from the dome of an indoor planetarium. Telescopes will be available to experience the night skies. There are seven locations, five of which are in Cook County. Check out the details by visiting our website at

The Dark Sky Caravan has opened doorways for Visit Cook County to begin planning our first Dark Sky Festival to occur in December 2018. And although the summer celebrations continue, we have just completed our stakeholder winter marketing survey and are thinking “winter” in the middle of July. Mind over matter, and feet in a lake, is how we stay cool and comfortable in the middle of summer.

Talking Tourism: Visit Cook County Welcomes New Members to the Team! | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: June 2018

Talking Tourism: Visit Cook County Welcomes New Members to the Team! | by Linda Jurek

The information center and administrative offices of Visit Cook County have welcomed two new members to their team.

Joining the administrative office team is Lily Nelson-Pedersen who has replaced Katie Krantz as the event resource coordinator. During the summer of 2015, the board of directors encouraged the creation of this position. Although you might think the event resource role was designed to coordinate events, the responsibilities are much greater. Lily is responsible for the content of the monthly event newsletter and all website listing for the events in Cook County. The events are those welcoming all visitors. The county 1% lodging tax supports our marketing and/or production of events and programming. This is no small task. Twenty-two events were added during fiscal year 2017-18. Lily is no stranger to Cook County. She is a 5th generation family member to our area and a 2009 CCHS graduate.

Carah Thomas-Maskell is a familiar face and a welcomed member to the information center team. Visit Cook County maintains information centers in Tofte and Grand Marais. And although there is certainly and ebb and flow to the county’s tourism traffic, the busy team of the information centers welcomed 22,000 visitors in 2017. Carah not only brings a vast knowledge of Cook County to her position, she is a seasoned writer and photographer.  Carah has traveled extensively and is a 1978 CCHS graduate.

Both Lily and Carah work in the Visit Cook County location in Grand Marais. Please stop by and welcome them to the team.

Photo: 2018 new hires at VCC, Lily Nelson-Pedersen and Carah Thomas Maskell

2018 new hires at VCC, Lily Nelson-Pedersen and Carah Thomas Maskell

Talking Tourism: Talking Tourism, Eh? | by Anna Klobuchar

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: May 2018

Talking Tourism: Talking Tourism, Eh? | by Anna Klobuchar

The world’s second largest country is a hop, skip, and a jump away, and contains our good neighbours to the north. (Don’t hit your spellcheck! We have temporarily adopted the Canadian spelling of ‘neighbour’ for the next couple of weeks). Canada’s southern border with the US is the world’s largest bi-national land border, and our Canadian visitors regularly travel to Cook County and Minnesota. In the community, they let us know how they enjoy all we have to offer, whether for the just the day or for extended vacation. We love our good neighbours to the north, and they love to visit us!

Yes, Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy, and still a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II being head of state. And until just recently, with Elizabeth now on the throne for almost 65 years, the second longest reigning monarch was Queen Victoria, who held the crown for 63 years.   Hence, Victoria Day, and the 3 day weekend the Canadians celebrate on the weekend before the U.S. Memorial Day. Queen Victoria’s birthday actually fell on May 24, 1819, and has been celebrated in Canada on the third Monday in May since 1845! It is also their unofficial kick off to the summer season, and their weekend is packed with activities to celebrate the return of the warm sun and longer days.

For this year’s Victoria Day Weekend, May 19 – 21, 2018, the Canadian maple leaf flags will be a-flying throughout Grand Marais. The Grand Marais Downtown Business Coalition, in conjunction with Visit Cook County, created the “Welcome Neighbour” campaign, and is encouraging businesses to festoon their buildings with maple leaf flags, posters, and banners, all to ensure our northern visitors feel welcome.

Many area lodging properties are offering room rates on par with the Canadian dollar. From vintage Triumph auto club members who are driving their classic models around Lake Superior and hail from Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa, to newlyweds from Thunder Bay who wish to hike the Pincushion trails for the afternoon, our Canadian patrons report that they feel embraced by the people and businesses in this area. They describe how they enjoy our picturesque harbor, or, should I say, harbour, and tell us about their visits to the Grand Portage casino, our area restaurants, shops, galleries, and hiking trails. As we are close, Cook County is popular with the year round day trippers, and even in the winters, they come to Lutsen Mountains to ski for the day. Those who stay overnight come for casino gaming, our area theater, concerts or to take classes at the Art Colony or North House Folk School. Lastly, on their extended trips to Duluth or the Mall of America, we are a friendly,  popular respite location.

We are about to start our high tourism season, and the economic impact from all our visitors is a major source of income and of vital importance to our area. Victoria Day Weekend is the soft launch into the about-to-become busy season, make sure you say hello to our polite neighbours from the Great White North.

Bon Jour and Good Day Canada!

Talking Tourism, Eh? Welcome Neighbours

Talking Tourism, Eh? Welcome Neighbours

Talking Tourism: New Directions – Visit Cook County hosts Board Retreat | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: March 2018

Talking Tourism: New Directions – Visit Cook County hosts Board Retreat | by Linda Jurek

What’s the best way to advance an organization? Retreat.  A board retreat that is.  Many of us have heard of board retreats and in planning for the first ever Visit Cook County retreat, the work done in advance is equally as important as gathering a busy group of board members. Being a younger organization of eight years and having achieved incredible growth and increased tourism traffic were a couple of reasons a board retreat was necessary. Number one for me? I wanted to offer the Visit Cook County (VCC) team and board members the opportunity to step away from their day to day business and provide a chance to exhale and consider the work of our organization. Hosting a retreat in Cook County comes with its own mixed bag of consideration but one of the best is the ability to disconnect with a drive inland – up the Gunflint Trail. And let’s not forget gathering a group of very busy individuals that serve on the boards of our local not for profits in addition to running their own businesses. A retreat should not be burden, and to my delight the vast majority of our board was able to attend.


The retreat also served as an opportunity for the team at Visit Cook County to provide thoughtful reflection on their area of expertise including marketing, events, communications, finance and info center operation. The retreat was set up in a sharing circle format with the opportunity to provide verbal and written feedback. Each team member provided a report and was able to receive feedback from the our knowledgeable board leaders. The VCC team reviewed the feedback and provided a brief report prior to kick of the day two work session. Some of the suggested highlights and directives include:


  • A review of our mission and vision
  • To focus on sustainable tourism growth with a focus on our slower occupancy months
  • Better identifying the role that Visit Cook County has in supporting local events
  • Improving our metric analytics for our marketing efforts
  • Improved communications with Visit Cook County stakeholders on everything from vacancies to the most popular visitor information requests to promotional opportunities and news alerts
  • Share marketing campaigns and initiatives


On behalf of Visit Cook County, a big thanks to the board of directors for providing leadership to continue the growth of tourism in Cook County.


2018 Board Retreat Group Photo

Back row (Left to right):
• Roz Randorf, Dale Carnegie (facilitator)
• Anna Klobuchar, Visit Cook County
• Frank Vecchio, Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
• Jennifer Kennedy, East Bay Suites
• Jim Vick – Lutsen Mountains
• Charles Skinner, Lutsen Mountains
• Dave Tersteeg, Grand Marais Rec Park
• Dave Seaton, Hungry Jack Outfitters
• Dennis Rysdahl, Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts
• Nancy Burns, Lutsen Resort
• Scott Harrison, Lutsen Resort
• Beth Kennedy, Birchbark Books & Gifts
• Maggie Barnard, Visit Cook County MN 
• Lisa Bodine, Giant Voices (facilitator)
Front row (Left to right):
• Katie Krantz, Visit Cook County
• Emily Haussner, Caribou Highlands Lodge
• Molly O’Neill, Visit Cook County
• Pascha Apter, Giant Voices
• Linda Jurek, Visit Cook County
• Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County
Visit Cook County Board Members absent from photo:
• Tom McAleer, Cascade Lodge
• Zach Baumann, Golden Eagle Lodge
• Mike Larson, Cascade Vacation Rentals





Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek, executive director at Visit Cook County MN

Talking Tourism: Evaluating Success – How We Use Data To Direct Marketing Initiatives | By Kjersti Vick

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: March 2018

Talking Tourism: Evaluating Success – How We Use Data To Direct Marketing Initiatives | By Kjersti Vick

Spring has arrived in Cook County! While our spring is less about beach vacations and more about spring skiing and maple syruping, it is equally as sweet. In the marketing world of Visit Cook County, we are always at least a season ahead preparing our ad buys and content creation. We’re thinking “summer” while the grass is buried under two feet of snow.

As the destination marketing organization for the region, we keep our ears to the ground listening for what trends or new opportunities lay ahead. In the depths of winter we send out a summer marketing survey to our stakeholders requesting feedback and ranking of various campaigns and vertical markets. Vertical markets are the broad topics we select to build a campaign around; often they are broken down into subcategories for content creation and receive budget allocations within seasonal marketing campaigns. With three years of results, we are now able to compare sentiment with measurable data. For example, we’ve seen biking as a vertical, previously in the lower third of the list, climb up to the top five most important verticals to focus on. This year, biking dipped slightly in ranking but that is nothing alarming. What that kind of data suggests is that our recent campaign on biking is working. Stakeholders are seeing our marketing efforts and there has been an influx of bike traffic and now other verticals are vying for the spotlight. Similarly, we have seen verticals that were at the top (ahem, Coolest Small Town) fall to the bottom of the list. Again, that viewpoint was palpable but without supporting data, it is difficult to assess if it is individual bias or truly what the majority wants. Being able to pair context with data is critical for evaluating a successful campaign.

Enough about what we think, what about our visitors? We all have our reasons for living here – but what makes someone visit here? Enter “Social Listening” my favorite buzzword phrase. Observing what people are saying on social media about their favorite attractions and digesting the feeling of posts help provide insights into why people come here again and again. While there are some constants, Lake Superior and the BWCAW, there are some surprises that are uncovered when you listen closely.

Case Study: Waterfall Season

If Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, Cook County is the land of 10M gallons of water. An evaluation of visitor posts has shown substantial emphasis on water as a primary attraction to Cook County. The obvious being Lake Superior and inland lakes, however, upon deeper analysis waterfalls were nearly as prevalent. In 2014, we started a new campaign promoting Waterfall Season during the months of April and May, known locally as “mud season.” Since the campaign launched in the spring of 2014, lodging tax has increased by 31.9% in what are historically known as low occupancy months. Additionally, the waterfall page on our website has become one of the top ten content pages on In reviewing the survey feedback from our stakeholders, it is clear that waterfall season is a time of year in which there is room for growth. While the additional amenities might not be as bountiful as in the height of the summer, the visitors during that time do not mind. They are here to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy season, and let the stress of life wash away with the ice breakup over the falls.

Of course while we are always looking forward to the next thing, being present and enjoying the current season is also important. For myself, I am celebrating the arrival of spring by skiing 31 consecutive days – starting March 1. Rain, snow or sunshine I get out for at least an hour a day to ski: downhill, backcountry or cross-country skiing (on a good day, all three in one day.) One could say my winter fatigue index is pretty low, so while we’re strategizing our summer campaign – I’m simultaneously savoring winter.

See more “Talking Tourism” articles and more at

Cook County News Herald by Kjersti Vick, marketing manager at Visit Cook County MN

Talking Tourism: How Lodging Tax Supports Events and Attracts Visitors | by Katie Krantz

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: February 2018

Talking Tourism: How Lodging Tax Supports Events and Attracts Visitors | by Katie Krantz

The Visit Cook County team receives this question many times throughout the year. It sounds something like this, “We’ve got a great idea for a new event that we’d like to put on. Can Visit Cook County help us out?” The answer is yes!  As Events Resource Manager for Visit Cook County, my job is to ensure that events in Cook County are well marketed, promoted and supported. But how do we determine which events we help with and to what level?

Let me begin by breaking it down. Of the 4% lodging tax charged to visitors, 1% of that is specifically earmarked toward events. This kind of allocation is unique to Cook County and totals approximately $400,000 annually. That sum is then divided among the tourism associations based on the contribution of lodging tax collected by community: Grand Marais Area Tourism Association (GMATA), Gunflint Trail Association (GTA), and Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association (LTTA). Each of those individual associations meets every winter to determine how to distribute their 1% budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs May 1 – April 30.

The process includes evaluating past events that have received support and reviewing new requests. Event planners that would like to submit funding requests are invited to attend the meetings to present their event. They can also send a letter or document that outlines what the event is, how they plan to spend the dollars, and why the event is relevant to tourism. While Visit Cook County organizes much of this process, the funding decisions are made by the association board members.

These meetings coincide with the budgeting process of Visit Cook County and are thorough and thoughtful. Board members take all of the information into consideration as well as evaluating time of year and how the overall marketing message relates to current marketing campaigns. The Visit Cook County team is always present and provides recommendations based on what is best for long term tourism growth and branding. While some events are solely funded from one area, the majority of events are funded across two or even all three associations.

One program that is unique to a community is the Grand Marais Area Tourism Association grant program. In Grand Marais, there are several organizations that host events that benefit from smaller levels of financial assistance or help with marketing. GMATA has implemented a simple application process for this program which is open until March 13, 2018. GMATA then meets later in March to evaluate the nearly $20,000 in requests.

The 1% is critical to growing our shoulder seasons, attracting new tourists to our area and ensuring that visitors have a memorable time when they are here. Cook County offers live music seven days a week, major festivals on most weekends through the summer and fall, four biking events with a cumulative registration number of 2400, professional art events and more. Because of the marketing, public relations and funding support that Visit Cook County provides through the 1% event tax, events thrive in Cook County.

Cook County News Herald by Katie Krantz, event resource manager at Visit Cook County MN Katie Krantz

Talking Tourism: Leveraging Lodging Tax Dollars for Success | By Molly O’Neill

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: January 2018

Talking Tourism: Leveraging Lodging Tax Dollars for Success | By Molly O’Neill

What is Lodging Tax? Who pays it? What is it used for? Who authorized it? Do I need to register my lodging property? There are a number of misconceptions and questions surrounding the collection of lodging tax. So in 1,000 words I will try to explain this complex subject that is vital to the success of tourism in our community. It’s not only visitor bureaus and chambers of commerce who rely on lodging tax for funding. Target Center, Mall of America, The DECC, and even Superior National Golf Course owe their existence in part to lodging tax funding. So how does it all fit together? 

A brief History of Minnesota State Statute 469.190:

While the art of hospitality has long been a part of our heritage, the official collection of lodging tax has a brief history. Prior to 1972, cities and towns were allowed to impose local tax on sales of admissions, lodging, or live entertainment to fund entertainment or tourism projects as approved by individual city ordinances but it was up to the local governments to decide to participate. In 1983 the first law of what is now known as MN State Statute 469.190 was passed authorizing MN cities to collect a 3% tax on lodging room sales. In 1985 that tax as extended to include towns and counties.  In 1987, the townships of Tofte, Lutsen and Schroeder voted to approve lodging tax. The City of Grand Marais followed in 1988, and the county approved the unorganized territory of the Gunflint Trail in 1992. Additions of unorganized territory areas that fall outside township boundaries and increases to the approved percentages followed until 2000, when all areas had adopted the 3% maximum allowed.

Revenues collected through lodging tax must be used only for promoting the city or town as a tourist area. The collection of all lodging tax is monitored and penalties imposed for non-compliance by the authority stated in each entity’s ordinance. In Cook County, this is done by the Auditors office while compliance with other laws such as state health laws is monitored and regulated by the state.

In 2008, to address the need for supporting the production of events that draw visitors and fall outside the scope of marketing, the state of MN wrote an allowance into session law (366.007 Section 17) specifically for Cook County to apply an additional 1% lodging tax, and also allows up to 3% tax to be collected on sales related to recreation. The 1% Event Tax, what we call it for clarity, is used to support and promote local events selected by the tourism associations that make up Visit Cook County as we are now known. This law is up for renewal after 15 years, unlike the permanent 3% lodging tax.

Marketing and Events– How we use tax revenues to bring visitors here and enhance their stay:

Now that you know the history, let’s talk about how Visit Cook County leverages those tax dollars. The 3% lodging tax is used primarily for marketing the entire Cook County area, whereas the 1% event tax is used to produce and market events that may attract visitors or augment their itinerary. Marketing initiatives can be anything from a print ad in a magazine to hosting a booth at a tradeshow to a digital billboard in the Twin Cities. In addition to traditional marketing efforts, Visit Cook County also manages social media accounts and works with a public relations firm in Minneapolis to spread awareness of the area’s communities. The 1% event tax is unique to Cook County and ensures that events are well marketed and supported. Thanks to the 1%, event planners specifically choose to host events in, or even move existing events to Cook County for the support that Visit Cook County provides for event marketing and funding, bringing their attendees and their tourism dollars with them.

Lodging tax dollars are also invested in bolstering the visitor experience. It’s imperative that tourists have a positive and memorable time in Cook County which they then share with friends, family and others through word of mouth and social media. To accomplish this Visit Cook County prioritizes the website, funds and staffs information centers in Grand Marais and Tofte, and creates printed publications including an annual visitor guide, recreational trail and attraction maps and a monthly event newsletter. These tools help visitors plan their trips, find interesting things to do while they’re here and share their memories when they return home.

How is lodging and event tax collected and paid?

Cabins, hotels, resorts, vacation rentals and private campgrounds are all required to collect lodging tax from their overnight guests. Once collected, it must be paid to the Cook County Auditor’s Office monthly, quarterly or annually.  Additionally, some non-lodging recreation businesses voluntarily collect a fee in lieu of tax to provide financial partnership with the lodging tax funds.

More and more there is heightened awareness about vacation rental by owner properties collecting lodging taxes from guests and paying it in to the county. Along with state and local requirements about zoning compliance and health regulations, all rental property owners except those leasing for more than 30 days, are required by law to participate in lodging tax collection. The benefits that vacation rentals by owner, or VRBO’s, bring as additions to our area’s lodging offerings are clear and undeniable. VRBO’s can fill a visitor’s vision of a dream escape. VRBO’s also provide employment opportunities for local cleaners, contractors, and administrative professionals. Homes and cabins that might otherwise be part-time second homes become occupied with more frequency by visitors who then imbibe in our local retail, dining and activity offerings. But this only works if the rental property is compliant with regulations regarding zoning, health and lodging tax.

So what does it mean?

The proof is in the pudding folks. Since the inception of the current structure of Visit Cook County in 2010 lodging tax revenues are up over 40% in every geographical area of the county. In 2016 that sum was over $1.16 million, which represents just a fraction of the total dollars brought into our local tourism economy by visitors. Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek has put together and reworked the organizational structure of her team to provide uniquely outstanding performance results in leveraging these lodging tax dollars for our area’s success. Check out for links to the resources and to see a little more of what we do and how we do it.

Cook County News Herald by Molly O'Neill, administrative manager at Visit Cook County MN Molly O'Neill