Bringing visitors to Fort Dodge

CVB seeks to make city and county popular travel destinations

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Kerrie Kuiper, left, and Connie Lind are seen at one end of Fort Dodge’s downtown region on Central Avenue.

The team at the Fort Dodge Convention and Visitors Bureau, 24 N. Ninth St., Suite C, works closely with the city and county governments and the private sector to market Fort Dodge and Webster County.

“The CVB is tasked with bringing visitors to Fort Dodge,” said Kerrie Kuiper, the CVB’s executive director. “We use a variety of mechanisms to do that. We’re out there talking with different tourism entities in Iowa, partnering with them, especially Travel Iowa, the Iowa tourism office. We help with conferences. We help with special events. We’re out there promoting Fort Dodge to group travel.”

Kuiper said the community is developing a well-deserved reputation as an intriguing travel option for folks from all across Iowa and well beyond.

“Fort Dodge has all the components to be a destination — a tourism destination for people throughout Iowa and the Midwest with things like our water trails, Gypsum City OHV Park and its 65 miles of trails, great museums and much more. We really are working hard to show not only our visitors but our residents that we are a destination. Look at all these wonderful things we have.”

The diversity of what exists in the city and county makes the area a draw for visitors with a wide range of interests.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Kerrie Kuiper, left, and Connie Lind pose outside of “Fenway Park” in the Rogers Sports Complex. The baseball diamonds are all modeled after Major League parks; local students also play in Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field.

Sporting events have long brought people to Fort Dodge. Those gatherings remain important but the agenda her office addresses has broadened considerably in recent years, Kuiper said.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve got other niches,” she said. “You’ve got the water trails, equestrian trails, fishing. Brushy Creek Lake in known throughout this state for fishing.”

As Iowa Central Community College has evolved, certain of its programs are also attracting people anxious to learn more about such innovative undertakings as its Fuel Testing Laboratory, Culinary Arts and Hospitality program and the William G. Smith Simulation Center.

And, of course, there are the long-established, always-popular attractions such as the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Oak Hill Historic District and Fort Museum, Frontier Village and Frontier Opera House.

In fact so much exists and is happening in Fort Dodge and nearby that potentially might interest a visitor that staying abreast of it all is a major part of Kuiper’s job.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Executive Director Kerrie Kuiper is hard at work in her office at the Fort Dodge Convention and Visitors Bureau recently.

“The biggest challenge is to learn everything that is going on,” she said. “We search the Internet constantly, social media, different websites trying to see what events are happening and when. Trying to keep up is very difficult.”

Kuiper said that one of her most pleasant tasks is making sure that local residents know about all the things their hometown has to offer so they can take advantage of the multitude of opportunities.

“Many people don’t realize what wonderful things we have in this community,” she said. “Getting the people to understand that is a challenge as well.”

Economic impact

Bringing visitors and events to Fort Dodge and Webster County greatly benefits the local economy. A county-by-county report for 2016 compiled by the Travel Association of America for the Iowa state government concluded that the economic impact in Webster County of tourism was substantial. Here are some of the findings:

• There were 580 travel-related jobs in the county with a payroll totaling $11.33 million.

• Visitor spending in the county amounted to about $66.83 million.

• Local tax receipts generated as a result of visitors was $640,000.

One of each summer’s biggest events is the annual Girls State Softball Tournament. Kuiper said it brings 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to Fort Dodge.

“We estimate that its economic impact is least $1 million up to $1. 3 million or $1.5 million,” she said. “It’s very successful and it’s a source of pride. We have hosted this tournament since 1970. It’s a tradition and it’s something that the athletes are proud of to come and play at Harlan Rogers. One of our tasks is to support that park and the development of that park. It has to be done right.”

Multifaceted agenda

The CVB is overseen by a board of directors, which includes representatives of various components of the travel industry as well governmental leaders and others. The organization is funded by Fort Dodge’s hotel and motel tax receipts. In FY 2018, that tax brought in nearly $580,000. Thirty-nine percent of those revenues are used to support the CVB. In addition, funds from this tax help pay for city services for special events, the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex and capital improvements for the police and fire departments and the city’s parks.

The CVB staff consists of Kuiper as executive director and Connie Lind-Fraher, the visitor services director.

The multitude of issues addressed by the CVB staff include advertising the community’s many attractions, working with event planners, promoting tour opportunities and helping host tour groups, coordinating with state and regional tourism bodies, processing grant applications and working on assorted committees.

Each year the CVB lends a hand to between 40 and 50 events and projects.

“What’s nice about the Convention and Visitors Bureau is we are small enough where we can actually pay personal attention to everything,” Kuiper aid. “We definitely want to assist everybody.”

Meet Kerrie Kuiper

Kuiper is a graduate of Fort Dodge Senior High. She attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids where she majored in history and elementary education and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1994. Kuiper taught middle school in South Dakota, before returning to Fort Dodge.

Before joining the CVB team in 2007 as marketing director, Kuiper was employed by the Girl Scouts of Lakota Council and the Fort Museum. She became the CVB’s executive director in 2016. On Monday, she will be honored by a ceremony in Storm Lake as a recipient of the Governor’s Volunteer Award for her “outstanding commitment and service.”

Kuiper has been a travel industry leader regionally and statewide. She is serving her third term as a member of the Iowa Great Places Advisory Board. Kuiper served two terms on the Central Iowa Tourism Region Board. In addition to being active on CITRB committees she had leadership roles that included treasurer, president-elect and president. She serves as District Leader for the Travel Federation of Iowa to help communicate with legislative leaders about tourism issues. Kuiper is a graduate of the Iowa Tourism Leadership program.

Additionally, Kuiper is secretary of the Fort Dodge Historical Foundation and a board member and past president of the Fort Dodge Noon Kiwanis Club.

Kuiper said her work at the CVB has been personally and professionally rewarding. She is enthusiastic about Fort Dodge’s future.

“There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to make the community better,” she said.

“I love it here. I enjoy the passion that people have to create more opportunities for visitors and residents. Our residents are our biggest cheerleaders. Our job then is to shout it out and tell everybody else.”