Let’s talk about tourism.
2021 was an exciting year for Lake City tourism. Although we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, Lake City has sprung back in a big way, seeing a year that has exceeded pre-pandemic averages in terms of lodging tax dollars and tourism traffic. Anecdotal reports from many local businesspeople have been extremely positive. The Chamber formed an official 11-person tourism advisory committee populated by both former Tourism Bureau board and staff members and new stakeholders, who provide continuity with past efforts, as well give us as a fresh look to the future. This committee attended a 2-part strategy session workshop in late summer that helped the group find common purpose, identify marketing building blocks, and set realistic goals. We have also honored ad contracts made by the previous Tourism Bureau, as we branched out into new publications and other forms of advertising.
We have a new marketing partner and Chamber member in Sievers Creative of Red Wing. With them we have developed a robust digital marketing strategy that began implementation in the fall. With the securing of over $25,000 in competitive grants from Explore Minnesota Tourism in 2021, we launched a new website, elevated ongoing digital marketing campaigns, and will soon begin work on a collection of video assets. We are excited to continue the work of enticing and welcoming visitors to Lake City in the months and years ahead.
When I started this job almost a year ago, the issue of tourism had divided some of our residents and members of our business community. I get it. Change can be hard and not always welcome. Many dedicated people worked for many years as the Lake City Tourism Bureau, and I’ll be the first applaud their efforts. In fact, a number of the people who were involved with this group were invited to join the Chamber’s committee on tourism. I was a history major in college and have also benefited from having irreplaceable mentors in my life. In other words, I respect the past and am always seeking out ways to learn from what has been done before. While we have changed some things around, like bringing Visit Lake City’s branding in line with that of the City, the Chamber, and the Port Authority, unveiling a new website, and pivoting towards a more digital based strategy, I cannot understate the value of having a person like Kathy Jo Rodester (the former Tourism Bureau Director) on the committee and available for personal consultation. I hope that over the past year, my efforts, and the efforts of staff and the new committee, have proven us worthy of the task of marketing Lake City to the outside world.
There is much to look forward to as we enter 2022. We begin the year with Visit Lake City on solid financial footing, and with a budget that projects an optimism we have not seen for the past two years. We hope to match if not beat the lodging tax dollar totals from 2021, and in 2022 we will see the tourism marketing grants that we procured in 2021 hit our bank account.
One of these grant projects will allow us to embark on a project to have 4 rock star videographers from across Minnesota team up with Minnesota musicians to create unique video marketing assets that we will implement into our 2023 marketing strategy. We are expanding our marketing budget and will add to efforts in both print and digital media, return to showcasing Lake City at regional travel expositions, and continue our rebranding efforts. The Chamber will launch a new Chamber-specific website for lakecity.org in 2022, which we plan to have work interactively with visitlakecity.org and the new Port Authority site.
Events will remain a main focus of Chamber staff. We are excited to expand Water Ski Days for its 50th anniversary and have convened a special committee to organize special events for Lake City’s 100th anniversary as the “Birthplace of Water Skiing”. We are working on launching a new Triathlon, the Y-Knot Tri, in 2022, and hope to expand Fall Fest after its incredible year-one success.
Destination marketing is a personal passion of mine. After selling my hospitality businesses in 2018, I was fortunate to contract my marketing services to Visit Winona before I joined Team Lake City in 2021. This past year, a very large percentage of my time has been spent on tourism efforts. In fact, it was not all that different in scope than starting a new business. New systems and strategies needed to be set up, and a new committee needed to be recruited along with creating the organizational documents that has guided it. It has been a hard and rewarding challenge every step of the way. My promise to this community is that as long as I am in this position I will fight to continue efforts to grow the appeal of Lake City through not only marketing efforts, but also through community development work aimed at adding amenities that benefit not only the visitor experience, but its own residents quality of life as well.
I thank you for the trust this community has placed in me and in the Chamber to handle the important work of marketing our beautiful city to potential visitors. We take the job seriously, we work diligently, and we are excited to continue this project into the future.
Executive Director, Lake City Chamber of Commerce