Business Monday: Trail’s travel magnet

Published 9:33 am Monday, August 11, 2008

Hundreds of people walk in and out of the doors at Trail’s Travel Center a day, and thousands a year. What better location for an information booth and greeter to welcome travelers and truck drivers to Albert Lea?

That’s exactly what Albert Lea Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Susie Petersen said she was thinking when she and Cathy Purdie of Trail’s Travel Center agreed to stock a display rack and place a table for a greeter in the main entrance to the truck stop.

“Trail’s is just so busy all the time,” Petersen said. “It’s just a great way to promote Albert Lea.”

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The information booth made its debut June 19 at the 10-year anniversary celebration for Trail’s and has since been very successful, Purdie said.

“We have had a lot of really positive comments on it,” she said.

Trail’s is a good location for the information booth, Petersen said, because it is so visible, something the CVB office can’t quite claim at its current location in Northbridge Mall. The location at the mall isn’t hidden, but it doesn’t get as much traffic as Trail’s.

“It’s a great location to have a lot of people coming in and out,” Petersen said. “It’s important for us to be visible. We want to be as visible as we can.”

Periodically the table at Trail’s is staffed by CVB Spark Plugs, who are volunteers that help promote the area. Petersen said she tries to get Spark Plugs at the information booth on Fridays and Mondays during the summer — a time when Trail’s is busiest.

“We’re trying to get our Spark Plugs and volunteers to go out and spend a few hours there if they have time,” she said.

Spark Plugs greet visitors, offer travel books and answer questions. Sometimes they even hand out Cold Stone Creamery ice cream samples.

“They’re just so energetic,” Purdie said.

The volunteers also spend time at the northbound Interstate 35 welcome center just north of the Iowa border.

“It’s kind of important to be there and greet them,” Petersen said. “This is just another way for us to promote Albert Lea.”

In addition to the travel booth and Spark Plugs promoting the city and area, there are billboards along the I-35 corridor from Duluth to Des Moines, Iowa, she said, and brochures at travel centers across the state including the Mall of America. Petersen said she even has information on the Explore Minnesota Web site.

“The more visible you are, the better,” she said.

One way Petersen said she can tell her promotional efforts are working is through the number of Albert Lea Visitor’s Guides that are flying out of the office.

In the past, the CVB has ordered 20,000 guides, but this year it had to order 30,000, according to Petersen. The CVB sends the guides all over, she said, and gets inquiries every day. Ever since the information went up online at the Explore Minnesota Web site, the CVB has sent out more than 850 brochures.

The visitor’s guides are flying off the shelves at Trail’s Travel Center, too.

“We’re really filling that rack often and that’s good to see,” Purdie said.