They came from all over northwest Wisconsin – Bayfield to Burnett, Ashland to Amery. Two dozen professionals in tourism-related agencies and the Department of Natural Resources were invited to Spooner to participate in the first of four stakeholder sessions held as part of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s (WDT) project to update its strategic plan. Representing Burnett County Tourism Coalition were Emily Gall, marketing consultant and Harriet Rice, secretary.

Regional Tourism Specialist Julie Fox welcomed the group. The capacity attendance from this region of the state, populated with small and medium-sized rural towns and villages, was proof of how important tourism is to local economies.

The purpose of the session was to engage stakeholders in the strategic planning process, starting at the grassroots level. The Coraggio Group, based in Portland, Oregon, specializes in strategic planning for travel and tourism. Michelle Janke and Sarah Lechner of the Coraggion Group led the session that lasted just 1 ½ hours. They laid out the basics of how the process will work.

Based on input from the four sessions, they will assist WDT in developing a draft strategic plan that will go back out to the field for review and comment in June. “It’s important to get early buy-in from stakeholders,” said Janke. “They have to understand their roles in the plan and its success.”

The timeline has the plan adopted in early July. “This will not be a thick binder,” Janke said. “We want the plan overview to fit on one page so you can laminate it like a placemat.” It’s a two-year plan that will be reviewed biennially.

Also in attendance was State Senator Janet Bewley, 25th District, asking who will see the input from the sessions. Janke explained the Department is responsible for developing the strategic plan–a public document –based on input from the field.

Bewley also asked whether other state agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the DNR are considered stakeholders or partners. “We will leverage support from other agencies,” said Janke. Bewley quipped, “I want every small rural town to be a tourism destination!”

Working in small groups, attendees listed, prioritized and discussed their top challenges, then reported their findings to everyone. Top challenges included funding, getting small communities to work together, and staffing.