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 visitcookcounty.com/events

 

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 www.visitcookcounty.com/fall

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 visitcookcounty.com/dark-sky-caravan.

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.