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!