With stay-at-home orders, travel bans and social distancing guidelines in place, it’s no surprise that the tourism and event industry took a hit during the pandemic. As we’ve come to see over the last 18 months, the professionals in this space are nothing if not resilient, creative and hardworking. And their efforts are paying off, as more and more travelers and event goers begin returning to their pre-pandemic habits.
Recently we sat down to see what’s brewing with Natalie Conrad, Director of Marketing and Communications for Twin Cities Gateway, the area consisting of nine northern Twin Cities suburbs (Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Ham Lake, Lino Lakes, Mounds View, New Brighton and Shoreview). We talked about the past 18 months, lessons she’s learned, what to expect this year in the Halloween Capitol of the World, and what keeps her fueled.
What have been some of the communications challenges or shifts you’ve had to make in the past 18 months and what have you learned? Has anything started to shift back?
It has been incredibly challenging and interesting to work in the tourism industry throughout this pandemic. This tumultuous time taught me a lot about being adaptable and kept me on my toes as we needed to constantly adjust our strategy and messaging.
As marketing budgets were slashed and halted left and right, it was especially important to be creative and resourceful I have really enjoyed working with local businesses that have found inventive ways to adapt and succeed. It was a joy to highlight the many great businesses and attractions right in our neighborhoods that so many of us didn’t know about or have the time to enjoy during pre-pandemic times.
Luckily, I have a lot of experience working with little or no budget and many of the areas I’m highly skilled at and passionate about don’t have a cost! Without an advertising budget, we shifted our time and efforts to writing new content and updating or adapting existing content and promoting it via social media and earned media. This included doing more Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos at local businesses and attractions, as well as working with TV stations to showcase those businesses and events via pre-recorded Zoom interviews, at home from my kitchen, or doing an entire interview fully masked on-location.
Over the last few months, it has been a joy to see somewhat of a return to the “new normal.” We’ve been able to re-launch a lot of our paid marketing efforts as well as try out new and exciting programs. Plus, having the ability to plan farther out and see our hotels and venues bring in more visitors and events has been a breath of fresh air. And for me, personally, it felt great to get the chance to return to in-studio TV segments again!
What do you love most about your job? What excites you about marketing and communications, especially within the tourism industry?
I love that there’s never a dull moment! There’s so much variety in the work that I do and there are so many opportunities to get creative and try new things. It’s also very important to me to have a strong connection to my community. I really enjoy building relationships with each of our member cities and the many great local businesses and attractions throughout the area.
As a former journalist, I truly value the importance and impact of storytelling. In the tourism industry, our job is to tell the stories of our destinations. When I get to promote an amazing business, it’s such a mutually beneficial experience. The collaboration of working together with a common goal also excites me.
What have been some of the biggest hurdles for bringing in-person events back and how have you (and event coordinators throughout Twin Cities Gateway) been encouraging people to come?
The ever-changing mandates and protocols paired with varying vaccination statuses and comfort levels, have made planning events a challenge, but it’s also been a tremendous learning experience. We’re nothing if not adaptable!
Staying informed has been crucial throughout this time, but this has brought to light that we must be more accommodating to the different needs and interests of the public and offer many options. It’s also exciting how digital options allow people to attend events that they never would have been able to before.
This year is Anoka Halloween’s 101st celebration. Last year’s 100th annual event wasn’t able to be fully celebrated in-person due to COVID. What can people expect at this year’s festivities?
An incredibly joyful and spooky celebration for the ages! I mean there isn’t really any better place to celebrate Halloween than in the Halloween Capital of the World! The annual celebration is back in full force and all in person again.
All three parades are back, including the Light up the Night Parade, the Big Parade of Little People, and the main event — the Grande Day Parade! And if the Anoka County Historical Society’s Walking Ghost Tours attendance (which sold out very quickly!) is any indication of what the attendance will be like at other Anoka Halloween events, these events will be very busy!
The entire month of October is non-stop Halloween fun in Anoka from the parades to the ghost tours and from the house decorating contest to the Gray Ghost 5K! There are so many festive events that the whole family can enjoy and it’s so much fun to see the community really get into the spirit too. For a full list of events, check out AnokaHalloween.com.
Last but not least, What’s Brewing for you?
I love tea! So, I almost always have a cup of tea in the morning and often several throughout the day. My go-to favorites are Stash Tea’s black and green chai teas. Also, as a marathon runner and fitness enthusiast, I’m always doing my best to stay hydrated, so I like to add some more nutrition and hydration to my water throughout the day with Nuun hydration tablets, including lots of fun and fruity flavors like Ginger Lemonade, Strawberry Kiwi and Blueberry Pomegranate.
When it comes to the evening, it really depends on what I have going on. If it’s a relaxing night at home, I might have an herbal tea. I also really enjoy trying different local craft beers and ciders whenever I can. A few of my favorites include Fulton Lonely Blonde, Social Cider Werks’ Freewheeler, Invictus Brewing’s Apple Ale, and really anything light, refreshing and enjoyable!