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For Immediate Release
State of Minnesota

Media Contact(s):

Chris Morgan, Explore Minnesota
O: 612-489-4331 // [email protected]

Tourism Industry Achievements Highlighted at Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference

St. Paul, Minn. (February 29, 2024) – Explore Minnesota's 2024 Tourism Conference, the state's annual event designed specifically for the Minnesota tourism industry, took place Tuesday at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, MN attracting more than 500 hospitality and tourism professionals from around the state and region. In conjunction with the conference, the 2024 Explore Minnesota Tourism Awards were presented highlighting extraordinary contributions to the state's tourism and hospitality industry.

The Tourism Industry Leader of the Year award celebrating outstanding personal achievements was awarded to: Bill Foussard, Owner, Best Western Plus White Bear Country Inn/Rudy's Redeye Grill. Lisa Beecroft, former board member of Explore White Bear said, "Bill demonstrates an unwavering commitment to community work and volunteerism... He has not only enriched the lives of locals but has also transformed the landscape of tourism and commerce in the Northeast Metro."

The Emerging Leader award was presented to Cindy Smyka, Executive Director at Ely Area Tourism Bureau.  "Cindy has facilitated the conversion of our tourism bureau from an average organization to a state-of-the-art one…Cindy is an excellent marketer in her own right but also has unparalleled leadership skills," said Kerry Davis, Owner of White Iron Beach Resort. 

The Visitor Service Award for outstanding customer service was presented to Katie Claire Schuler, Director of Guest Experience at Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen.  Emily Haussner, the General Manager of Caribou Highlands Lodge, commended Katie's exemplary qualities, stating, "She is always smiling and sets a positive example for the rest of the team... She consistently goes above and beyond."

Celebrating exceptional marketing, visitor services and partnership work, awards were presented in the following categories: 

  • Creating a Welcoming Experience Award: Visit Duluth for intentionally planned campaigns and initiatives to promote inclusivity for all and to show Duluth encourages visitors to come just as they are. 
  • Marketing Innovation: Otter Tail Lakes Country Association for their "Lake Life" campaign utilizing NIL (which is Name, Image, and Likeness) contracts with student athletes to promote their destination.
  • Outstanding Social Media Campaign: Best Western Hotels of Minnesota for their "Lived Experience" campaign that provided high-value content to consumers looking for their next trip.
  • One Minnesota Award: Mesabi Trail for their campaign to showcase the total and complete trail experience through the eyes of a participant. 

For more details about the Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference and award recipients, including remarks, visit 

About Explore Minnesota: Explore Minnesota is the statewide tourism promotion agency for the state of Minnesota. Tourism is a key sector of Minnesota's economy, annually generating $16.6 billion in leisure and hospitality sales and employing nearly 275,000 workers.  

Explore Minnesota is dedicated to growing the state's economy through the promotion of tourism, livability, talent attraction and business development. Through innovative marketing, industry partnerships, and unique storytelling, Explore Minnesota highlights the vitality and diversity of traveling to and living in Minnesota. Visit or find us @ExploreMN_PR on X and @exploreminnesota on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.