Imagine If……

Roger Brooks – Nationally known tourism & economic development expert to visit Winneshiek County

Take a moment to imagine your favorite vacation memory: a peaceful place, perfect day, great meal, rare find, or wild night out. Now imagine creating those experiences and memories for others – and imagine them right here in Northeast Iowa. Roger Brooks of Destination Development helps communities across North America accomplish exactly that.

“During the late seventies I was working in the concert promotion business – a friend, Paul Revere (of the Raiders) convinced me to get out of the music business and into promoting places. In particular, a start-up ski development in British Columbia called Whistler,” he says in a phone conversation earlier this spring. “I went up and helped promote the Resort and that was the beginning.”

For over 28 years, Destination Development has assisted more than 740 communities with branding, tourism, downtown development, and marketing. As a founding member and CEO, Roger Brooks has worked on projects across the US and Canada – including notable locations like Sunriver Resort in Oregon, Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado, and the Route of the Hiawatha trail in Idaho. However, Brooks also calls Destination Development the “Champions of rural America” with countless projects, workshops, and assessments in communities like Storm Lake, Iowa, the Wisconsin Dells, Battle Creek, Michigan, and Door County. He will visit Winneshiek County May 4 through 7 to both assess the region and conduct a public workshop.

“This will be an honest assessment of the area through the eyes of a first time visitor. That’s what we’re all about – no sugar coating. I’ll visit different areas of the county, gather a couple hundred photos, and then give a bottom up assessment,” Brooks says.

Brooks is known for his invigorating and entertaining public presentations garnering much praise from public officials, tourism and economic development leaders, and business professionals. Since 1991 much of his work has focused on the public sector with states, counties, and specific regions. Sighting rural America and the need to tap into the huge prospect of tourism based business, Brooks has become a walking encyclopedia of astounding facts on tourism economics and isn’t afraid to share them.

“The number one activity of visitors in the world is shopping, dining, and seeing entertainment in a pedestrian friendly environment. 80 percent of that business happens in downtown areas, and of that, 70 percent happens after 6 pm. Are you open? Are you ready? If you want those visitors, do you have the places for them to go?”

Brooks has amassed an enormous amount of practical but priceless information for branding and developing communities. His statistics have become the shining stars of his work, including the figure that 70 percent of all consumer spending is done after 6 pm – not just tourist spending, but all consumer spending on things like dining, hotels, retail shops, golf courses, and wineries. Brooks says, “If I spend all day on your trails, I’m not spending money in your downtown, I’m out enjoying the day. After six, we eat, walk, shop, and see entertainment. A great hotel room is a necessity, but if there’s not anything to do nearby you won’t retain your visitors. Where do you dine? Where do you hang out? What do you do? Are you open?”

Open indeed, but Brooks also waxes the importance of first impressions, and great public spaces that not only interest tourists but locals alike.
“70 percent of sales of first time visitors come from curb appeal. How is your downtown put together? Think of it like a stage – you want a great streetscape, good signage, public spaces, and appealing storefronts. At the end of the day you can create it, but YOU also have to want to hang out there too,” he says excitedly. “Of course what also makes it is what’s IN the building – what’s ON the stage. Your business owners also have to be empowered.”

Layout, Brooks says, is key to successful businesses in a vibrant downtown. “You have to group like businesses – have you ever thought about why food courts, auto malls, gas station and fast food outlets, or antique malls work? When you group like businesses together, the figures show that they all do exponentially better.” Brooks also likes to tote what he calls the “Rule of Critical Mass” or the 10+10+10 rule for making “a downtown a destination,” stating you need to have a minimum of ten places that serve food, ten retail shops, and ten places open after 6 pm – all within three lineal blocks.

A successful downtown is certainly part of the equation to drawing visitors to rural Iowa, but Brooks acknowledges that Iowa already has a positive image going for it.
“Of course there’s more than corn fields and freeways. I think a lot of people don’t realize there are almost 900 towns in Iowa – one of the highest per capita of any state, and you’re well known for your education system. Unfortunately you export a lot of your education, but it’s still a huge asset. I’ve never been to the Northeast corner, so I’m excited about that. I hear it’s beautiful – and Iowa is a beautiful state,” he says.

But a realistic viewpoint is a main part of Brooks’ program – you can’t just say your community is in a pretty place and expect people to come. You need to find what makes you unique and work hard at marketing it.
“Geographic location is not a brand. Often times communities fail at attracting visitors by trying to please everyone. Your brand has to set you apart. You build that brand through public relations,” explains Brooks, “and advertising is used to maintain it.”

Roger Brooks’ three-day visit to Northeast Iowa will be comprised of a field day on May 5 with trips to see the Prairie Farmer Trail, Trout Run Trail, local mountain biking trails, and the Upper Iowa River water trail, as well as various parks, public lands, and downtown areas throughout the county. The following day – Wednesday, May 6 – a public workshop will be held from 8 am to 3 pm at the Hotel Winneshiek in downtown Decorah. This workshop welcomes all interested parties (by registration) and will have sessions focusing both on specific results for Winneshiek County as well as more general topics and facts useful to anyone interested in marketing, tourism, and travel. Also featured at the workshop will be Nancy Landess, from the Iowa Department of Economic Development Tourism Office.

The public workshop will help area and regional professionals understand what it takes to make the most of natural, business, and marketing resources in the modern world of tourism and travel.

“Imagine if we had all the money in the world, how could we improve our trail systems or our downtowns?” asks Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau (WCCVB) director Brenda Balk. “Imagine if we didn’t have welcoming communities or fun trails– how would our economy be affected? We want everyone to come to Decorah and learn from Roger’s dynamic presentation as well as our County’s real-life assessment process. This couldn’t be a more important conversation for our region.”

Click Here For Registration Information!

Roger Brooks also stresses the importance of having strong community support: “In almost every case it is a bottom up effort,” he says. “What will put you on the map? What do you want to be known for? What sets you apart? The process is like pushing a car – you can never rest. You push hard to get the car rolling and then you make sure it keeps rolling along – never rest on your laurels, or you’ll be passed up. Are you ready?”

The entire event is made possible by an Iowa Natural Resource Based Business Opportunity Grant facilitated by the Northeast Iowa RC&D as well as the Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Winneshiek County Development, and the Decorah Hotel Motel Tax fund. The grant was proposed to help Winneshiek County and area businesses maximize the economic benefits of trails such as the Prairie Farmer Trail, Trout Run Trail, area mountain bike trails, and the Upper Iowa River water trail. For more information on registration and ongoing events please contact the Winneshiek County Convention & Visitors Bureau by calling 563-382-2023 or emailing . For more information on Roger Brooks and Destination Development visit

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