BAXTER - A group dedicated to bringing people and money to the lakes area isn't likely to get much recognition at home.
But that may be changing and a new name is expected to help.
The Brainerd Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau was christened a few months ago replacing the previous Brainerd/Baxter Lodging Association name. But by either title organizers aren't surprised few people know what they do.
"I think we're just an invisible organization," said Mark Innes, president and general manager at Comfort Suites Rapid River Lodge and Waterpark. Innes serves as board president for the Brainerd Lakes CVB. "We're always behind the scenes."
Seasonal brochures in clear envelopes are sent out to promote the lakes area as the Brainerd Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau works, largely behind the scenes, to attract visitors here to spend money in area shops, restaurants and lodging establishments.
Innes said changing the name provides a better glimpse at what the association does and gives it more credibility statewide. The group uses funds raised from a 3 percent lodging tax in Brainerd and Baxter to market the lakes area. The CVB promotes area events, shopping and lodging. Ninety-five percent of revenues must go toward marketing, which is generic to promoting the lakes area. The 5 percent the cities of Brainerd and Baxter retain goes to the cost of collecting the tax.
"Those lodging tax dollars are so important to us," said Suzette Bush, Brainerd Lakes CVB executive director.
Mark Innes, Brainerd Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau board president, and Suzette Bush, executive director, said their organization has a low profile locally. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The CVB prints brochures to market the lakes area and buys radio and television time. The group hosts travel writers from across the nation, such as a writer from San Diego who wasn't sure about the whole idea of standing atop a frozen lake with cold deep water beneath his feet. Innes said once those writers go back to their publications and write feature stories the lakes area gets more exposure than it ever could have afforded to buy.
Once an entirely volunteer organization that used an advertising agency to buy ad space, the group decided hiring a dedicated employee made more sense. Innes said it was the best decision the board of directors ever made.
Innes said there was a time when Twin Cities residents thought of Brainerd or Bemidji as chief recreation destinations in the state, but there is more competition now. The lakes area can't afford to become complacent, Innes said.
By the numbers
There are 11 hotels within the city limits of Brainerd-Baxter.
Combined they offer 769 rooms.
Each property collects a 3 percent lodging tax per room per night.
Brainerd and Baxter collect the tax and retain 5 percent.
The lodging tax began in June 1995.
In 2006, the total tax receipts brought in $303,255.41, of that $15,162.77 went to the cities of Brainerd and Baxter and $288,092.64 went to the Brainerd Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As far as the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, Innes said the CVB is a separate entity that isn't a competitor but acts as an enhancement for tourism efforts. The visitors bureau has come up with clever options like a little plastic boomerang give-away that says "you'll always come back to the Brainerd Lakes Area" and lists the Web site minnesotasplayground.com. Other mailers highlight fishing or seasonal brochures like the fall colors created within a full color, multi-page guide created in a leaf cutout. The guide has trail maps, area highlights and scenic drive suggestions. Other marketing efforts create maps of the Brainerd/Baxter area.
"We are very positive for the area," Bush said.
The Republican National Convention next September in St. Paul will bring a major national focus to Minnesota. Bush said 15,000 members of the media are expected along with 45,000 to 50,000 invited guests for the event. A promotion to get people to see other regions of the state before or after the convention is aimed at attracting people here.
About $150,000 of the CVB's budget goes to TV and radio ads with about $25,000 to $30,000 on the Internet. Bush and Innes said they see calls come in immediately after a commercial airs. Fifteen-second spots may cost $300 to $450 depending on the time. Innes said the 10 p.m. news slot time in the Twin Cities appears to be particularly good in reaching people. The lakes area also has been advertised during Oprah Winfrey's show.
With their efforts aimed at residents who live outside the area, Bush said the community may not even know this group exists. Their modest offices are in a low-profile suite in the post office building in Baxter just off College Drive. But a CVB e-newsletter, a new name and a Web site full of events, performances, exhibits and festivals may be of interest to area residents, as well as out-of-towners.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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