Talking Tourism: Secret Sauce

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: February 2019

Talking Tourism: Secret Sauce | by Kjersti Vick

Last week at the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference in the Twin Cities, Visit Cook County was brought up by our peers as a model that is working. Being industry leaders, Linda was asked to present on a panel of experts discussing “Creating Impactful Events” to a standing room only room. The secret is out, what we are doing is working to drive tourism and awareness to our region.

Visit Cook County was founded in 2010 when the three tourism associations decided to stop competing against each other and combine forces to achieve a greater market share.  In our relatively short history, our region has seen unprecedented growth in lodging tax. While the peak summer months still see the largest influx of lodging tax dollars, the months that have seen the most significant growth from 2011, until 2017 are:

  1. April + 60%
  2. June + 59%
  3. May +58%
  4. October +48%
  5. November +43%

We were tasked with driving traffic during the “shoulder seasons” or times of the year when businesses felt an increase in traffic would be beneficial to sustaining their ability to remain open and therefor sustain their workforce. Our team of marketing experts and the board strategized on what we could do to either convert current guests from peak season to shoulder season visitors and/or attract new market segments.

Enter “Waterfall Season.” Utilizing our natural assets, we changed the perspective of mud season by creating a new season embracing what occurs naturally – the melting of snow and ice on the inland lakes rushing down to Lake Superior. In addition to seeing an increase in visitation, we’ve seen more social media posts about waterfalls and received some significant press in major publications like the Star Tribune. On our website, our waterfall map is one of our most sought after downloads.

Beyond our natural assets, we are unique in another way thanks to our locally collected 1% Events Tax. The events tax has allowed us to be a strategic partner with event producers to both enhance the visitor experience and develop events that will attract new visitors to the region. Major events like the Lutsen99er, is one of the biggest successes. Prior to the Lutsen99er, the month of June was a hit or miss and its success was incredibly weather dependent. Since 2011, in the Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder lodging tax district, June has seen a 64% increase in lodging tax collections. This can be directly attributed to the success of this great event which has also caused a ripple effect of an increased awareness of biking in our community. The result? New single-track mountain bike trails being built as well as new biking events throughout the year.

Because of the foresight of the leadership from our three tourism associations, Visit Cook County has become a premiere Destination Marketing Organization in Minnesota. Our success is one part location and tradition mixed with two parts creative marketing.

2019 Visit Cook County at Explore Mn

Pictured from left to right: Lynn Nelson of LINPR, Kjersti Vick of Visit Cook County MN, Lily Nelson-Pedersen of Visit Cook County, Barb Darland of Giant Voices, and Linda Jurek of Visit Cook County MN