Congrats to Rachel Thompson, Executive Director at Visit Greater St. Cloud. She’s one of nine winners in the second annual Emerging Tourism Stars program in partnership with MMGY Global.
Readers can meet all the winners in weekly issues of The Travel Vertical and they’ll be recognized in person during the 23rd Annual eTourism Summit on June 6-8, 2022 in Orlando.
What’s an Emerging Tourism Star? Savvy individuals (of any age!) in destination marketing and attractions that are new to the eTourism Community of digital travel and tourism professionals or have risen to the challenges of a role.
- Winners will be directly connected with a travel and tourism leader as a mentor
- Winners receive a scholarship to attend eTourism Summit
- Winners will participate in a panel conversation at eTourism Summit moderated by MMGY Global
- One winner will fill the eTS Emerging Tourism Star Advisory Board Seat (an annual appointment)
Q: While you joined Visit Greater St. Cloud in 2015, you assumed the role of Executive Director last September. Any tips for others at DMOs that might be looking at such a career advancement?
The DMO world is fast paced, exciting, and full of opportunities. I would encourage anyone that is looking to get into the industry, starting out in the industry, or looking to advance their career to lean into their creativity, passion, and desires to better the destination they represent. Get fired up about the wonderful things in your community and don’t be afraid to share them in creative ways. Take risks, try new markets, and be prepared to change direction as you see what is and isn’t working.
Q: As a drive destination, how has your destination fared regarding road trips, sports events, bleisure travel and Canadian visitors during the pandemic?
St. Cloud, Minnesota is centrally located in the state and in the Midwest. This makes it the perfect location for holding conferences, tournaments, and taking the family on a road trip. We lean into that in our marketing and event bidding process as it has always been our primary market. Now, more than ever, we are seeing that our average traveler is embracing the unique outdoor activities the area has to offer with a focus on experiences. Activities such as Cliff Jumping at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve, Kayak excursions on the Mississippi River, and Biking on the Lake Wobegon Trail.
We have the ability to monitor traffic patterns in our destination and can see traveler flow from convention locations to leisure locations and extended trips associated. As companies continue to embrace the remote worker, it allows for convention attendees to extend their trips to encompass a leisure component. We also see that extended families have returned to market with youth sporting tournaments. Restaurants are full with large family parties after a game, hotels are filled with sport teams that can utilize additional function spaces for team get-togethers, and sporting field stands are full again.
Q: What data do you evaluate in planning marketing efforts and how do you work with partner vendors?
We currently partner with Zartico, a data analytical company focused on DMOs. The data that we receive from them helps us identify the user seasonally in our market, the origin of the traveler, the spend of that traveler, and how long that traveler is in market. This helps us answer the question of which markets are the best ROI for us to attract (days in market, dollars spent) and which travelers are our primary audience (gender, age, income level, etc). We then can apply new ad content to specific markets and watch if it changes who we see show up in destination. Once Canada reopened their borders, we were able to watch the trickle in of Canadians into our market and where they were going while they were here, this assisted us to know what ads to serve that region to obtain more economic dollars.
We also, like many, utilize Google Analytics to see what people are searching for and how they’re finding us. It was fascinating to see the uptick in search results leading to our outdoor activities during the pandemic, and now how quickly that has changed back to events on our calendar. Understanding what users are searching for helps us produce better content to answer their questions and of course, encourage a visit.
Q: What are the things you’d tell a first time visitor to St. Cloud, Minnesota that might come as a surprise?
- We embrace all four seasons with outdoor activities year-round. It isn’t always frozen, but we would love to take you snowmobiling, ice skating, dogsledding, or ice fishing when it is! Come in the summer and we will get you on the same lakes water skiing, boating, kayaking, and soaking in the 80+ degree weather.
- Located in the middle of Minnesota and yes, “Minnesota Nice” is true.
- On the banks of the Mississippi River, St. Cloud offers a unique blend of nature with all the amenities of urban.
- The St. Cloud area is a live entertainment destination, with two theaters, a brand new amphitheater, and four community concert series weekly in the summer, among many individual business patios and live music series, St. Cloud offers music and live entertainment daily!
Q: Crystal ball time: How is recovery looking overall for Greater St. Cloud?
Much like other parts of the state and country, Minnesota has made a faster recovery in leisure and sporting travel than convention and corporate. With the increase seen in ADR (Average Daily Rate) and occupancy, there is great momentum moving forwards. The unknown factor in the foreseeable future for Greater St. Cloud, and most destinations, is the strained workforce and change in the economy. If anyone has access to that crystal ball, I believe most DMOs, including myself, would love to use it.
Q: What do you personally hope to achieve by attending as an Emerging Tourism Star for the first time?
I am looking forward to the new connections, education sessions, and the ability to connect with my peers. The conference agenda is slated full of inspiring stories, practical education, leading trends, and useful tools, I hope to see you there!
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