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

Talking Tourism: 2017 A Year End Review | By Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: December 2017

Talking Tourism: 2017 A Year End Review | By Linda Jurek

When I woke this post-holiday morning, I knew one thing for sure – 2017 has chosen a chilly departure.  I can’t help but reflect on the year knowing we have accomplished much.

Early in 2017, the Visit Cook County team traveled to the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference. It is always beneficial for us to gather with like minded professionals all working to promote Minnesota as a travel destination. The proof is in the pudding, as demonstrated by our third year winning awards for excellence in Tourism marketing. In 2017, we were the recipient of three industry awards:

  • Award of Merit – Lake Superior Storm Festival
  • Event of the Year – Lutsen 99er
  • Rising Star in Tourism Award – Linda Jurek (so very humbled)

Part of what makes our team so strong is that along with our scheduled marketing and public relations work, we remain ready to promote the unexpected.  Who knew a moose rescue story would gain so much interest?! Kjersti Vick, marketing manager, recognized the newsworthyness of this story and pushed it out to all media channels. The organic results were impressive. Over 90 stories were generated and media outlets in over 30 states shared the story bringing the Gunflint Trail and Cook County on to their TV, newspaper and digital screens for well over a week. This earned media resulted in incredible organic reach that is worth over $100K of ad value – for very little hard dollars spent.

But our success is not only luck. We also strategize and watch trends to direct our marketing and public relations outreach. For the third year, we have place an emphasis on celebrating our “dark skies” as one of our vital community assets. In 2017, our dark skies campaign gained some traction generating two major media stories. A front-page story in the Star Tribune as well as an on-air interview with KSTP TV in the Twin Cities. An estimated 500K people watched or read the story about our night sky. The results have been instant as the inquiries to our information center about “tips for viewing the northern lights” have increased dramatically and traffic to the Northern Lights page on our website increased by 22% year over year!

Of course there were the special surprises along the way. The Gunflint Trail Association hit a homerun by hosting the largest blueberry contest which brought visitors and locals to the blueberry weigh stations coveting the prizes. The Cook County Chamber’s Downtown Business Coalition continues to do great work. Grant Marais Area Tourism and Visit Cook County are able to partner with these folks and support many local events.

I work with an incredible team. In May, I calmly stated that we received approval to rebuild our website. There were a few raised eyebrows when I also informed the crew that we would accomplish this in three short months while simultaneously completing the visitor guide content. (Incidentally, the visitor guide is very popular and we distributed over 11,000 last year.) If you haven’t taken time to check out the website, please do so. The photography is stunning!

In terms of lodging tax collection, we’ve leveled off a bit but continue to see growth. For those of you that review the lodging tax report, remember to look at the apples to apples to comparison. I’ve found that many folks compare last year’s monthly totals to the current. There are many variables which affect these totals and the apples to apples compute a much truer reflection.

On behalf of Visit Cook County, Happy New Year! Please stop by for a visit. The door is always open and the coffee pot on.


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

Talking Tourism: The Super Bowl of Marketing | by Maggie Barnard

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: November 2017

Talking Tourism: The Super Bowl of Marketing | by Maggie Barnard

My background is 28 years in the hotel business working for a national hotel chain starting as an on-call banquet server and working up to Roving Corporate Director of Catering & Convention Services. During those years I enjoyed being a resident of six different states and two Caribbean islands. My roving assignments were two to three months long. I took the opportunity to be familiar in a destination, getting to know people and places beyond the tourist highlights.

I’m a football fan so I was thrilled to be working in two cities that hosted the NFL’s Super Bowl: Tampa in Jan. 1991, and Miami in Feb. 2007. It was impressive to see the evolution of the festivities from 1991 to 2007. In 1991 the focus was predominantly the game and the weekend. In 2007 it was now Super Bowl week with multiple parties, fundraisers and the NFL Experience set up as a daily fan destination. The year-end player awards became a televised gala with red carpet coverage. There was such great energy walking around both cities interacting with fans and visitors. It was special to have access to peek ‘behind the curtain’ and see the plans for the pageantry and production.

The Super Bowl is the year end celebration and pinnacle of a season. In comparison, our annual Fall Gala celebration is teeny tiny but feels the same for us. We look back on our campaigns like Storm Season and Hygge as well as letting the world know we are looking out for our moose. The Chamber of Commerce honors the accomplishments of our local businesses and leaders. Like the NFL, Visit Cook County is passionate about our organization and product, we love what we celebrate and invite everyone to join in.

As the tourism destination management organization for Cook County, MN we care about the success of our communities. We dedicate ourselves to telling the stories of our destination because we love the people we live with and where we live. We understand our responsibility to make our destination as successful as possible. We are happy to be a marketing asset for our Cook County businesses and organizations that want to take advantage of our outreach. One of my responsibilities with Visit Cook County is communicating these marketing opportunities.

We launched a new, beautiful, second version of our website this past August. We investigate and invest in new advertising mediums and social media channels. We make marketing access very affordable: our Basic Level costs a little over $20/month. This level includes a website listing with a photo, contact info, short description and a business listing in the 15,000 printed annual Visitor Guides. Throughout the year we communicate new marketing opportunities such as contests, feature stories or seasonal and event promotions that involve larger media markets. To all of our dedicated, hardworking business owners and organization leaders, we invite you to buy-in and celebrate our little Super Bowl of marketing every year.

Cook County News Herald by Maggie Barnard, communications manager at Visit Cook County MN Maggie Barnard

Talking Tourism: Embracing resilience, post-summer stampede | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: October 2017

Talking Tourism: Embracing resilience, post-summer stampede | by Linda Jurek

As described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. As we approach the end of October, many of us have reached our own personal tipping point. We’ve seen streaming lines of traffic making their first or possibly their one hundredth trip to the North Shore, festivals most weekends during July, August, and September, thousands of donuts and craft beers served, and the exit of our summer workforce far too early. Need I say more? Summer is our high season and much of our workforce is tired. We long for the quiet days. Our personal Hygge.

Having grown up here in the 60s and 70s, I vividly remember the excitement of summer. I anticipated the return of summer friends and the multitude of new faces. Although I would never have described my summer employment as working in the hospitality industry, that’s what I did. I washed dishes at the Birch Terrace, cleaned rooms at the Seawall,  stocked the shoe department at Humphrey’s, picked rocks at Lutsen Mountains to earn my ski pass and waited tables at the Harbor Inn.  There were over 80 students in my graduating class; a community workforce right in the high school.

When I arrived back in Cook County during the summer of 2013, my role seemed rather straight forward. I grew up here. I visited often and love northeastern Minnesota. Building the shoulder seasons and drawing visitors to this place seemed like a simple and natural thing to do. Even though Visit Cook County was relatively new in formation, the guidance received by a seasoned board of directors representing our entire county made the task less daunting.

Before returning to Cook County, I had traveled the Upper Peninsula of Michigan many times. I noticed that many abandoned hotels and restaurants dotted the roadway on my journey. These once thriving towns and businesses were reduced down to relics of days gone by.  I knew I didn’t want to see that happen here.

What have I learned? It is complicated. Our economy is driven by tourism. It was in the 70s and remains much the same today. We are so incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by the Superior National Forest, an international border and the greatest of the great – Lake Superior. Where 95% of the land in Cook County is federal or state land, we have an advantage of space and preservation built into our foundation. What has changed is the tipping point. We are now faced with the need to protect our J1 and H2B work programs. Our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the state and the ebb and flow of our tourism economy more apparent than ever. I am an optimist. We will persevere if we work together to continue building our community and economy. Thank You for all of your hard work this summer and fall season!

So tired business owner, happy donut eater, and weary hospitality industry pro. Help us celebrate by joining us on October 24th, at the Summit Chalet at Lutsen Mountains for the 8th annual Fall Gala hosted by the Cook County Chamber and Visit Cook County. It is an evening of laughter, food and camaraderie. Pre-registration is recommended at by Sunday, October 22 but walk-ins are welcome.

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

Talking Tourism: The Scenic Route has the Best Stories | by Anna Klobuchar

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: September 2017

Talking Tourism: The Scenic Route has the Best Stories | by Anna Klobuchar

Have you ever stopped into the Visitor Information Center in Grand Marais? Or maybe the one in Tofte? The goal of the information centers are to help make those stories for our visitors rich and memorable. Keeping in mind that word of mouth goes hand in hand with marketing, it’s important that we ensure our visitors have an unforgettable time in Cook County. Can you guess the number one question our visitors ask? Overwhelmingly it is “Where can I see a moose?” a close second: “Is there a chance of catching Northern Lights tonight? Where can I go?” Occasionally other more obscure questions come in like: “We are making tiramisu tonight. Where can I find the freshest Mascarpone cheese?” The info center team is the direct ambassador for every person who walks through the door or calls or emails us for information.

Annual raw numbers:

Yearly Info Center Visitor Engagement: 21,985.  (Tofte Info Center: 5685, Grand Marais Info Center: 16,300.)

Grand Marais Annual Phone Requests:  1,613

Email Requests: 1048

Yes, the numbers may appear daunting, but do keep in mind, these people are planning a getaway or on vacation, and their mindset is relaxed.  99.5% of them come through the door in a great mood and ready for an adventure. Some have spent 51 weeks in a cubicle saving all year so they can spend one week in the BWCAW.  Frequently, they share a story or two. From dewy eyed newlyweds who want to go hiking (Honeymoon Trail or Sweetheart’s Bluff, of course), to the highly caffeinated art gallery hoppers waiting for us in the morning parking lot to flip over the ‘open’ sign, we provide them with the data – printed or anecdotal – they need. We have many tools at our disposal to accomplish our goal. We stock referential material ranging from trees to flowers, moose to mushrooms, state parks to salmon, as well as the dry data rules and regulations for hunting, fishing, and boating licensures. We also have literature on border crossing mandates and regional Canadian information.

Our colorful and informative Visitor Guide has proven to be very popular with not only visitors, but with state info centers and state parks. These agencies request boxes of them, and to date, we have distributed 11,800. Lastly, our comprehensive website, has rich content on lodging, events, dining, shopping, and the incredible recreational opportunities throughout our wilderness.

The information centers do a lot more than just talk with visitors and answer phone calls. In the busy months we maintain a spreadsheet of all the lodging properties that have cancellations or last minute vacancies. We facilitate connecting a last minute caller or visitor to a potential room that’s just been made available.  However, we do not maintain reservations, nor do we set or control room pricing but we are there to help a last minute traveler find a place to stay. We also generate a list of business hours for dining and retail during the off-season.

The breathtaking wilderness and majestic Lake Superior have been bringing visitors here for years. We were discovered as a destination location even before Highway 61 connected us to the world. We meet families who have been coming here for four or even five generations! They share their memories and their stories.  A new visitor’s future story is as unique as each face that comes through our door, and we’re here to help them write it.

We are proud to be the welcoming information ambassadors to countless visitors throughout the year. Our knowledgeable team includes: Bill Wehseler, in Tofte, and Carolyn Higgins, Judy Boots, and Dan Helmerson, in Grand Marais.  We are open daily from Memorial Day to MEA Weekend with a seasonal reduction occurs from November through May. We encourage you to stop by sometime and visit with us. Odds are, we’ll help you discover a new side of Cook County even if you’ve lived here for years. 

Cook County News Herald by Anna Klobuchar, info center coordinator at Visit Cook County MN Anna Klobuchar