Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Henry shares insights on tourism’s value

Keith Vandervort
Posted 1/17/18

ELY - Tourism isn’t just vital to local economies, it’s a major driver of economic development. That’s according to Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of Woods Tourism and the 2018 Chair of …

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Henry shares insights on tourism’s value

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ELY - Tourism isn’t just vital to local economies, it’s a major driver of economic development. That’s according to Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of Woods Tourism and the 2018 Chair of the Minnesota Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, who shared his insight at this week’s Tuesday Group.

 “I met Joe at a meeting and was impressed with his thoughtfulness on the importance of tourism on all aspects of a region’s economy,” said Steve Piragis, co-founder of Tuesday Group.  “I believe we all can gain from his perspective and bring away from it new mindsets relative to the future prosperity of Ely.  His familiarity with a community-marketing concept called the ‘Halo Effect’ should spark some conversation in Ely.  The effect has been proven to produce great results for other regions of the U.S.”

“Sometimes, when you live in a community, your perception of what the community is, can be vastly different than someone who visits,” Henry said. “Ely to me is nature, the north woods, canoeing, pristine, organic, and especially creative marketing.”

He went on to describe the rich tradition of marketing that Ely accomplishes. “Among the tourism ranks, we talk about the crazy, good things that Ely has done over the years,” he said.

Referring to the traditional April Fools marketing gimmick promoted in the Twin Cities to kick off the summer tourist season, he said, “I remember hearing stories about a walleye walking around the cities on that day. Some of the things you have pulled off have been really creative.”

Rather than as competitors, Henry views Ely and the Lake of the Woods area in the northwest part of the state as “partners in success.” Both communities look to market nature and tourism. “There are some similarities but many differences,” he said.

Henry talked about the impact of tourism on the economy of his backyard at Lake of the Woods, and the state of Minnesota in general.

Like Ely with their “end of the road” slogan, the marketing gimmick for Lake of the Woods is “Walleye Capital of the World.” There is much more to his tourism message, but he said, “We have heated ice houses to catch walleye in the winter and charter boats to catch them in the summer.”

Henry referred to “destination marketing” in describing his organization’s sophisticated marketing program. “We have earned media, or attention that you earn, from an outdoors writers spending time here, to television, radio and the press,” he said. “But our biggest piece of the pie is by far digital media.”

The Lake of the Woods Tourism web page is where most people go for initial information, according to Henry. “Social media is growing much more. We built our Facebook page from 1,250 to 123,000 followers in just six years. “On purpose and by design we use Facebook as an advertising medium,” he said.

Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are also used, he said. “They are all good forms of social media, but we get our best return on investment from Facebook.”

Other forms of advertising used by Lake of the Woods Tourism center around getting people excited. “When people get excited they take action,” he said. He showed a short video clip of a walleye fisherman landing a 30-plus lunker. “That is exciting to see, and they want to come here and catch one like that.”

Henry talked about communities in Minnesota that invest in tourism. “For every dollar invested, there is $75 dollars spent by travelers, and $7 going to state and local taxes,” he said. “There is a five- to seven-time return on every dollar we spend coming back to the community. That’s not just more heads in beds, that’s real money.”

He quoted state figures touting leisure and hospitality jobs in northern Minnesota and the economic impact they are responsible for. “Sales of $14.4 billion in gross sales, almost $40 million each day, come from tourism,” he said. “Tourism jobs account for some 11 percent of the total private sector employment. That is $5.1 billon in wages. Tourism generates 17 percent of the state’s sales taxes collected.”

“Without tourism, what would we have?” he asked.

He touched on a study called the “Halo Effect.” “When all was said and done, they concluded that the absolute number one driver of economic development in any community, whether a state or a city, is tourism. The reason for that is tourism creates the image of who you are as a community. What I know about Ely is based on what I see in the media.”

His closing message stressed how tourism helps build the total community. “Exploit what you have,” he said.

The Ely Economic Development Authority was specifically invited to the session by Piragis. No members attended.

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