Opinion

A Year-End Review

Linda Jurek

When I woke this post-holiday morning, I knew one thing for sure— 2017 has chosen a chilly departure. I can’t help but reflect on the year knowing we have accomplished much.

Early in 2017, the Visit Cook County team traveled to the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference. It is always beneficial for us to gather with like-minded professionals all working to promote Minnesota as a travel destination. The proof is in the pudding, as demonstrated by our third year winning awards for excellence in tourism marketing. In 2017, we were the recipient of three industry awards: . Award of Merit— Lake Superior Storm Festival . Event of the Year— Lutsen 99er . Rising Star in Tourism Award— Linda Jurek (so very humbled)

Part of what makes our team so strong is that along with our scheduled marketing and public relations work, we remain ready to promote the unexpected. Who knew a moose rescue story would gain so much interest? Kjersti Vick, marketing manager, recognized the newsworthiness of this story and pushed it to all media channels. The organic results were impressive. Over 90 stories were generated, and media outlets in over 30 states shared the story bringing the Gunflint Trail and Cook County to their TV, newspaper and digital screens for well over a week. This earned media resulted in incredible organic reach that is worth over $100K of ad value – for very little hard dollars spent.

But our success is not only luck. We also strategize and watch trends to direct our marketing and public relations outreach. For the third year, we have placed emphasis on celebrating our “dark skies” as one of our vital community assets. In 2017, our dark skies campaign gained some traction generating two major media stories: a front-page story in the Star Tribune as well as an on-air interview with KSTP TV in the Twin Cities. An estimated 500K people watched or read the story about our night sky. The results have been instant as the inquiries to our information center about “tips for viewing the Northern Lights” have increased dramatically and traffic to the Northern Lights page on our website increased by 22 percent year over year!

Of course, there were the special surprises along the way. The Gunflint Trail Association hit a home run by hosting the largest blueberry contest which brought visitors and locals to the blueberry weigh stations coveting the prizes. The Cook County Chamber’s Downtown Business Coalition continues to do great work. Grand Marais Area Tourism and Visit Cook County are able to partner with these folks and support many local events.

I work with an incredible team. In May, I calmly stated that we received approval to rebuild our website. There were a few raised eyebrows when I also informed the crew that we would accomplish this in three short months while simultaneously completing the visitor guide content. (Incidentally, the visitor guide is very popular and we distributed over 11,000 last year.) If you haven’t taken time to check out the website, please do so. The photography is stunning!

In terms of lodging tax collection, we’ve leveled off a bit but continue to see growth. For those of you that review the lodging tax report, remember to look at the apples to apples comparison. I’ve found that many folks compare last year’s monthly totals to the current. There are many variables which affect these totals and the apples to apples compute a much truer reflection.

On behalf of Visit Cook County, Happy New Year! Please stop by for a visit. The door is always open and the coffee pot on.

Linda Jurek is the executive director of Visit Cook County. Linda is a 1978 graduate of Cook County High School. She lived much of her adult life in Duluth where she raised a family, returning home when her current position was offered to her.


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