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, www.visitcookcounty.com 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.