For those of us who reside in the Iowa Great Lakes area, we often take for granted this beautiful hidden gem we call home. Whether you live along one of our gorgeous lakes or have a house in an adjoining community, the opportunities for summer activities in this region are immense - there are so many options for creating lifelong memories.
“At times, those of us who live here can take for granted the beauty of our area and the opportunities that abound around us,” said Okoboji Tourism Director Rebecca Peters. “At Okoboji Tourism, our focus is to reach out to the outside world and entice them to visit. Once they come, so many families fall in love with the nostalgia of the Iowa Great Lakes and want to come back year after year.”
The Okoboji Tourism Committee was formed in 1997, an offshoot of the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. The two groups have similar goals but focus on different entities. The Chamber helps local communities and businesses, while Okoboji Tourism concentrates on the outside world.
“If you see our marketing and promotion efforts, then we aren’t doing our job right,” Peters said. “Our entire mission is to responsibly promote the Iowa Great Lakes Area to potential and returning visitors outside our area.”
This focus is funded by hotel and motel tax revenue collected by the local cities and Dickinson County. By having one marketing campaign for the entire area, it eliminates competing messages and brings everyone together.
“If one wins, we all win,” Peters added.
Okoboji Tourism has two paid employees; Peters is full-time, while Laurie Simington is part-time. They gain a local college intern during the summer months. All of the leg work is done by these ladies, whether it’s research or putting labels on Vacation Okoboji Visitor Guides.
“Typically, it’s an eye-opening experience for our interns, as they don’t realize everything that is in the Iowa Great Lakes, even though they’ve grown up here,” she said. “It’s usually a ‘Wow! This is such a good place to come!’”
Besides Peters and Simington’s contributions, they gain valuable insight from local community members and business owners. They have a 16-member committee that is made up of eight individuals in the lodging industry, as well as eight who own or manage non-lodging establishments. There are those who manage or own large 200 plus resorts, while another runs a 11-room Bed and Breakfast.
These members are of all ages, and Peters calls them valuable decision-makers for our area and for Okoboji Tourism. “They have a pulse on their industry and gain firsthand knowledge of what tourists say when they come to our community,” she said. “They are talking to their visitors every single day and are inspired to improve and grow from the insight they gain.”
As well, other community members will also communicate with Peters. “Many will pick up the phone and call me,” she shared. “We have open lines of communications and we all work together to help the visitors who come to our area.”
Most of all, Okoboji Tourism works hard to describe the Iowa Great Lakes as inviting, welcoming communities – a place to relax and get off the rat race of life. When someone calls for information, Peters enjoys conversations about the different towns and explains the area as one cohesive place.
The Vacation Okoboji Visitor Guide is a main source of information and 75,000 are printed a year. Peters said half of them get mailed out to potential visitors and the other half is distributed throughout the region. Rather than sending a dozen brochures, everything from camping to hotels to restaurants and shopping are included.
“People hear of Okoboji but wonder if it’s possible to get a place to stay in Spirit Lake or Milford. It’s our job to tell them why to come and then it’s the businesses job to make them fall in love with our area, so they want to come back,” Peters said. “Our area does an incredible job of doing this and people come back year after year.”
The group also places print ads in regional and national publications, and digital marketing is very targeted – going 75-250 miles out from the area and often focusing on Minneapolis, Omaha, and Des Moines.
“Last year, a lot of Minnesota came south rather than going north. Many had never been here and fell in love with Lake Okoboji,” Peters shared. “From what we are seeing, 2021 is setting up to be a special summer.”
Making summer memories as a family is what the Iowa Great Lakes is all about! Whether relaxing at Pike’s Point Beach, riding the Legend Wooden Roller Coaster, or getting ice cream at the Spillway Drive-In, every day can be filled with special moments in the extraordinary place we call home!
More information can be found at vacationokoboji.com.
There is a lot to be excited about at Arnolds Park Amusement Park this summer! Besides a new ride to be announced soon, Marshall Doeden can’t wait to open up the gates and watch families pour through. His crew and him spent the offseason repainting the lower park, including the Fish and the ride’s scenery, Kiddy Roller Coaster, the Kid Boats, and the Kiddy Train. The Reckless was moved to where the gazebo used to sit, which is now across from the train and Ferris Wheel. He also moved the Jumping Star into the lower park.
“We are really excited for a more ‘normal’ summer,” Doeden said. “We’ve worked hard getting ready for 2021 and excited to show our visitors. We shuffled a few things around the park, so it will look very changed, and the new ride coming will be like a ride that used to be in the lower park.”
Other updates include a brand-new light package on the Ferris Wheel and a patio was built outside the Diner for outside seating. The Popcorn and Dip ‘n Dot’s booths will now be located near the Roller Coaster.
Marketing Director Paul Plumb said they also finished installing speakers in the park, allowing the Park to broadcast their own radio station throughout the space. They had started installing them last year and finished over the winter. This addition also includes an added safety feature, allowing people to send out messages for requests like missing children.
Another exciting feature is reopening the Roof Garden and adding more shows. “We are really excited about moving forward with more shows, so make sure to watch for the upcoming list of shows coming to the Roof Garden,” Plumb said. “We will still be doing some safety protocols but looking forward to getting back to more ‘normal.’”
He said there will also be several new restaurants in Queen’s Park, including Boardwalk Bar and Grill which is where Godfather’s Pizza was once located. There are also new owners of where Localish was located, now renamed Topog.
“It will be really nice to have some more food options, and for the first time, the Park will be serving pizza inside and at concerts,” Plumb added.
Ruthven Meat Locker on the Lakeside will be moving inside the Park, near the Tilt-a-Whirl fence line. People will be able to purchase product from the street side or inside the Park.
“Also, watch for a big announcement for some new construction in the next couple of months,” he said.
Masks will be recommended but not required. There will still be temperature readings as well.