Over the weekend, Grinnell received four out of the 12 Iowa Tourism Awards in the Rural Community category at the 2014 Iowa Tourism Conference. Grinnell’s Chamber of Commerce was in attendance to accept the awards.
Grinnell won first place in “Outstanding Collaboration” in recognition of its winter ice skating rink, “Outstanding Event” for its annual Grinnell Games, “Outstanding Dining” to commend Prairie Canary and “Outstanding Social Media” in recognition of the efforts of the Grinnell Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is operated by the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce.
Grinnell also received second place in “Outstanding New Event” for Montezuma’s Monte Fest event, which was coordinated by the Chamber.
“We were thrilled to receive the four awards,” said Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Emily Counts. “We won one award last year, got second place the year before and received one first place award three years ago.”
The Iowa Tourism Conference is held every year and recognizes the best efforts in the tourism industry. All nominations for awards are reviewed and scored by tourism industry members. Twenty-four awards are handed out, 12 for both metro and rural communities.
“The Iowa Tourism Conference is the premier educational and networking event for tourism professionals” wrote Iowa Tourism Communications Manager Jessica O’Riley in an email to The S&B. “It provides industry members from across the state [the opportunity] to come together and learn from each other as well as from regional and national speakers.”
A large factor of Grinnell’s “Outstanding Social Media” win was due to the Chamber of Commerce’s weekly email newsletter, which has close to 6,000 subscribers.
“I’m constantly amazed by how many people from around the state read our newsletter and remember topics from past weeks,” Counts said. “They’re very popular and have close to a 40 percent open rate—which is much more successful than the average for mass marketing.”
Counts is responsible for managing Grinnell’s social media presence to promote community events and individual businesses. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and recently Pinterest, Counts is able to reach out to those in the community.
These social media platforms allow the Chamber of Commerce to develop a Grinnell “brand” that might attract more visitors.
“We’re still trying to find what our niche really is,” Counts said. “People know that Grinnell is a place to come and eat. They know that we’re an active community because of the Grinnell Games. We’re known for having a growing economy and a healthy, diverse base of business and industry. We’re working on branding Grinnell as a cool, funky town smack in the middle of the metros. I want Grinnell to be a cool small town that people from Des Moines can come to and see a college basketball game or eat at Prairie Canary.”
Prairie Canary’s winning of “Outstanding Dining” speaks not just to the quality of their food and management, but also to the efforts of the Chamber, which worked to create Iowa’s Best Bite Restaurant Challenge to fill the once-vacant property on Main Street. The challenge offered incentives for chefs from around the country to apply to open a restaurant. Prairie Canary beat out 42 other submissions to win the prize.
“I nominated Prairie Canary for the award because it is, in my mind, one of Grinnell’s top tourist destinations,” Counts said. “A lot of visitors that come to Grinnell come to eat at Prairie Canary and they’ve won a following from around the country. It has helped to brand us.”
The four awards that Grinnell won recognize the hard work that the Chamber has done to make Grinnell attractive to current and potential residents and businesses.
“People ask what’s in our water,” Counts said. “And we’re working to keep that sentiment—we want to be a sustainable community in the long term.”