Rhonda Silence

Visit Cook County begins effort to renew local lodging tax

Visit Cook County, the countywide tourism organization, gave a presentation to the Cook County Board of Commissioners in June. Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek and Financial and Administrative Manager Lily Nelson-Pedersen shared the history of their organization and about what is ahead, which includes a renewal of the county-collected 1 percent lodging tax.

To extend the lodging tax past its sunset date of October 2023, Visit Cook County needs to go back to the Minnesota Legislature. Before doing so, it must gain the endorsement of the Cook County Commissioners.

At the June meeting, the representatives shared that Visit Cook County started as the Cook County Events and Visitors Bureau in November 2008 with the approval of the 1 percent county-collected lodging tax, which is paid by visitors spending the night in local hotels and resorts. The lodging tax sunsets in October 2023.

The CCEVB became Visit Cook County in 2010 when three tourism groups—Grand Marais Tourism Association, the Gunflint Trail Association, and the Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association—joined forces, along with business partners, Lutsen Mountains and Grand Portage Lodge and Casino.

Jurek and Nelson-Pedersen shared what they know about the establishment of the 1 percent lodging tax, which is unique to Cook County. Jurek points out that neither she nor Lily were there when the tax was enacted through special legislation. However, she stressed that this is not a tax that county residents pay. It is what is charged to guests at county lodging facilities.

This 1 percent local lodging tax is in addition to the 3 percent lodging tax that was already being collected by the State of Minnesota. The 3 percent state tax is strictly earmarked for tourism promotion. The county’s 1 percent lodging tax is designated for events, such as support for the Moose Madness Festival in the fall or the waterfalls tour in the spring.

Nelson-Pedersen said these events are geared toward bringing people to the county in the off-seasons, in hopes to stabilize business for the lodging community.

Jurek also noted that these events are also enjoyed by community members, such as the Oh Ole Night holiday celebration and demonstrations at the Cook County Historical Society’s Bally’s Blacksmith Shop. Jurek said some of the area nonprofits that host events have come to rely on financial support from Visit Cook County.

Jurek also stressed that the campaigns in the last year have recognized the difficulties that the community faced during the coronavirus pandemic. She said because of COVID-19, the organization had to pivot its marketing to focus on education and letting visitors know and understand what to expect when visiting the community. She said they are also working to let visitors know about the staff shortages and weekday closures of many restaurants.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek and Financial and Administrative Manager Lily Nelson-Pedersen to learn more about all of this. Here’s their conversation.