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.