EAST GULL LAKE -- Returning to The Snowmobile Center at Cragun's Resort on a rented Polaris sled, Gabi Romberg had a frozen smile on her face and was ready for more of what the Brainerd lakes area has to offer its winter guests.
Her next Minnesota adventure was a dog sled ride.
Romberg, who is a tourism promoter in Dusseldorf, Germany, had never been snowmobiling before her stay at Cragun's Resort on Feb. 14. Even if she had found somewhere to sled in her native country, she wouldn't have had the same experience of sledding on the densely wooded trails near Gull Lake.
Romberg was one of four Germans, mainly travel writers and photographers, who spent a day at Cragun's Resort, before they traveled to other parts of the state for the week. Their visit, called a familiarity tour, was sponsored by the Minnesota Office of Tourism and IcelandAir.
It's just another effort to lure more international guests to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The state tourism office uses familiarity tours to bring writers and photographers from other countries to Minnesota for a visit, usually for a week. The group travels to various places throughout the state, their accommodations are usually complementary of the hotels or resorts. Their last stop was a day-long jaunt to the Mall of America before flying back to Germany. The goal of familiarity tour sponsors is the participants will return to their country and write about the tour -- in this case, the hope is that the guests will write travel stories about Minnesota for various German publications.
"When I come back (to the U.S.) for a personal vacation, I will come to Minnesota in the winter," said Romberg.
And why not? The lake country has much to offer visitors from abroad. From golf to fishing to snowmobiling, the Brainerd lakes area has it all.
The Brainerd lakes area was ranked in the top 50 golf destinations in the world last year by Golf Digest magazine. Golf is a major selling point area resorts are using to appeal to potential international guests.
"We want to take advantage of that," said Rick Skogen, of Cragun's Resort, of that ranking. "We have a world class facility and we'd like to bring the world to it."
Skogen said the resort has had an increasing number of guests from Japan. Japanese golf courses are often crowded and are reserved for the wealthy, so a golfing trip to central Minnesota appeals.
Grand View Lodge in Nisswa hosted a group of 12 German doctors who arrived at the resort for a week last summer, ready to play golf. But most of their international visitors are employees of international corporations based in Minnesota. They usually stay at the resort as part of a large convention, said Ellie Loschko, who handles marketing at Grand View Lodge.
Loschko said most of the resort's international guests are from Canada and England. About 40 percent of their guests are from out of state, while the majority of in-state guests are from the Twin Cities metro area.
Dave Gravdahl, general manager at Breezy Point Resort, said the resort gets a few international guests each year. Norwegians, Swedes and Germans, among others, are finding the resort on the Internet, he said.
Ruttger's On Bay Lake in Deerwood gets a lot of Germans guests because the Ruttger family still has family ties in the country, said Tammy Price, Ruttger's front office manager.
Paul Sherburne, European marketing manager for the Minnesota Office of Tourism, said most foreign tourists are from Canada, then Japan, United Kingdom and Germany. The Minnesota Office of Tourism has other employees, like Sherburne, who promote Minnesota throughout Scandinavia, Canada and Japan.
Jenelle Hewitt, director of sales at Cragun's, said Cragun's would benefit from additional international tourism if other major airports, like in Chicago, would have flights directly to Brainerd so guests would experience fewer layovers.
"If you've only got a four-day vacation, you don't want to spend two days in an airplane," she said.
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