Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.
Originally published: August 2020
Talking Tourism: Business Hours & Free Website Listings by Linda Jurek
It’s hard to believe that just five months ago, our corner of Minnesota was closed. Doors were shut; we transitioned quickly to remote work, cut budgets, and furloughed employees. Days were spent navigating complex loan applications, analyzing business structures, and meeting with local leaders to discuss what to do next as a community. While tourism experts predicted that travelers would choose destinations like ours, close to home and outdoors, Visit Cook County was busy trying to prepare for an unpredictable future of summer tourism. For all the reasons we love our corner of Minnesota, so do many others, but what would this look like in the world of 2020? Our VCC team and board of directors went to task, and dove headfirst into strategically re-aligning our work with the needs of our community.
COVID RESOURCES FOR LOCAL BUSINESSES
Visit Cook County did not escape budget cuts. In fact, we shrank our summer marketing budget by 80% and refocused our energy and resources on how to prepare to reopen our community carefully and strategically–always keeping the safety of our community as a top priority and top of mind. The COVID Resources page on our website shows the evolution of marketing during a pandemic and is chock-full of information and tools for local business owners, including zoom backgrounds, Facebook profile frames, a Visitor’s Pledge, Best Practice Guide, marketing materials (including the beloved “One Moose Apart” campaign) and a whole lot more. Visit Cook County has also made significant investments in providing free face coverings for the public, a vital and important part of how to keep the community safe during this time.
TRUSTED SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR VISITORS
For several years, Visit Cook County has monitored and publicized retail and dining hours as well as weekend lodging availability on our website. This summer, this work continued and, in many cases, has doubled or tripled as businesses respond to staffing shortages and new covid-19 protocols. While planning their visit north, visitors are finding this information extremely useful, and user traffic to our site reflects it. As demand increased, we felt it was important to make this information the most user-friendly and engaging experience possible. A new interface that is mobile-compatible has been updated on our site. We will be distributing postcards and posters to local businesses that have an easily scannable QR code for quick access to local hours for both dining and retail. Users can also go to the home page of visitcookcounty.com and click on the banner “FIND UPDATED HOURS.”
FREE WEBSITE LISTINGS
What started as a conversation to help our local artists and musicians generate income during this time has evolved into much more. Due to the incredible efforts and economic hardships of 2020, Visit Cook County wants to offer all local businesses the opportunity to list FOR FREE on our website for one full year. We are hoping that this opportunity for a FREE Visit Cook County listing will help lodging, local services, guides, dining, retail, artists, and musicians expand their exposure to visitors. And that visitcookcounty.com will continue to be the most comprehensive local business list in our community.
If you would like to get your business listed, contact Maggie Barnard, Communications Manager firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the leaves lose their luster and cool fall mornings feel like they are right around the corner, it’s a good time to take a deep breath and acknowledge all that we’ve accomplished as a community during these strange and hard times. Summer of 2020, with all of its perplexities will soon be in the books. While it has been challenging at times, we’ve also seen the strength and adaptability of our community. We are a place that watches out for one and other, and strives to celebrate diversity. We are a place that works together to overcome unforeseen obstacles. Visit Cook County thanks each and every one of you for navigating these unprecedented times with us. As the season changes, we are looking to the future more than ever, and are excited to continue to be an important resource for the community we serve and hold in the highest of esteem.
Be safe, stay adventurous, and wear a mask.
Linda Jurek, Executive Director – Visit Cook County