Tourism leaders honored with Governor's Travel and Tourism awards

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Fargo - Outstanding leaders in North Dakota's tourism industry were recognized today at the 2011 North Dakota Travel Conference in Fargo. First Lady Betsy Dalrymple and Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman awarded seven Governor's Travel and Tourism awards.

"As the third-largest industry in North Dakota, tourism is an important part of the state's strong economy," said the First Lady. "On behalf of Governor Dalrymple, I congratulate all the award recipients for their efforts to ensure visitors to North Dakota have a memorable experience and for their contributions in growing our tourism industry."

Awards were given to:

Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF), in the Tourism Organization of the Year category. For many travelers, the North Dakota Badlands, Medora, the Medora Musical, or the Bully Pulpit Golf Course represents their first experience of North Dakota. Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2011, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation has led the effort to keep the Badlands interesting to the traveling public, working hard to balance the need to preserve important history and create new and better services and facilities. Their mission statement makes their purpose clear; summarized, it is to "Preserve, Present, & Serve."

During the past quarter century, TRMF has invested nearly $30 million in physical improvements in the community, most recently the renovation and expansion of the Rough Riders Hotel and Conference Center. A well-known mainstay in North Dakota's tourism offerings is the Medora Musical, which has attracted an audience of more than 2.3 million since the Burning Hills Amphitheatre was completely rebuilt in 1990-91. TRMF employs more than 40 year-round employees and grows to more than 325 employees on a seasonal basis. In addition, 500 volunteers help serve the public each summer.

Wendy Howe, Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), in the Travel and Tourism Industry Leader category. Howe began working at the Minot CVB in 2003 and became the executive director in 2007. As a community-minded person, she's been involved in various local and statewide organizations, giving Minot CVB a strong presence. Howe has served as a president of the Destination Marketing Association of North Dakota (DMAND) and been named to Prairie Business's 2009 Top 40 under 40 list. Wendy has worked with other industry leaders in taking the tourism message to Washington DC and isn't afraid to work the trenches whether it's a sport show in Regina or the halls at Hostfest.

Tiffany Rolfstad, Minot Sleep Inn & Suites, in the Front-Line Employee category. Rolfstad was the first associate hired for the Sleep Inn and Suites. She started at the front desk and was recently promoted to assistant manager. Understanding the importance of first impressions and quality service that exceeds guests' expectations, she greets visitors by name and with a warm smile. Her efforts don't end there, she constantly looks for ways to improve a person's visit through cleanliness, speed of check-in and accuracy of billing.

Gary Schluter, Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours in the International Tourism Award category. Created in 1987, Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours employs nine travel specialists who develop tour packages to meet the specific requests of tour operators and travel agents around the world. Over years, Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours has worked diligently to educate themselves on North Dakota's wealth of travel products. Working closely with the North Dakota Tourism Division staff each year, they identify and contract with dozens of North Dakota's suppliers to insure that North Dakota has the products necessary to be included in any package request they receive. Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours has been instrumental in developing tours featuring North Dakota for tour operators in Scandinavia, Europe and soon Australia. These tours are featured in tour operator and wholesalers' catalogs and websites in all of North Dakota Tourism's target international markets.

John Hild, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF), for the Behind the Scenes Tourism Employee award. At age 14, Hilld was hired by Harold Schafer to sweep the streets of Medora and has worked in Medora ever since, first for the Gold Seal Company and then for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. His longtime history working on the maintenance crew in Medora has given him knowledge of the inner workings of nearly every building and facility in town. In his position as Maintenance Director, Hild oversees a crew of full time and seasonal staff and is charged with maintaining and improving TRMF properties throughout Medora. His tireless behind-the-scenes work truly keeps Medora running on a daily basis and is key to many of the new developments Medora now enjoys.

Dakota Zoo, Bismarck, in the Attraction of the Year category. Celebrating its 50th season in 2011, the Dakota Zoo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in North Dakota and delivers on its mission to ensure that as many people as possible go away with a better understanding and appreciation for animals and nature. With the addition of the recently built Tiger and Snow Leopard Habitats, it continues to be a leader in conservation and education for visitors from across the state and beyond, and works with zoos from across the world to preserve critically endangered animals by actively participating in Species Survival Plans. The Dakota Zoo hosts a wide range of annual events designed to attract various age groups and people from all walks of life, from: "Breakfast with the Animals" to "Junior Zookeeper Camps" for kids to "Senior Zookeeper Camps" for senior adults.

Scheels Fargo Marathon, Fargo, in the Event of the Year category. Started in 2005 with 2,400 participants, the Scheels Fargo Marathon has become one of the state's biggest events, attracting a record-breaking 20,000 participants in 2010. More than 4,100 hotel rooms are booked during the marathon weekend. With average visitor spending around $150 per day, the economic impact of this event is an estimated two million dollars for these communities.

The Fargo Marathon brings thousands of visitors from all over the country and world to North Dakota, many for the first time, to enjoy North Dakota's attractions, lodging, entertainment and shopping opportunities. In addition to attracting people to Fargo, the marathon gives back to the community by donating to numerous charities.

"The success of North Dakota's tourism industry can be attributed to the hard work of our industry partners around the state," Otte Coleman said. "These award recipients share their passion and excitement for North Dakota with visitors from across the world, and we're grateful for their efforts to create legendary experiences for our visitors."

River Keepers: Canoeing, Cooking and Campfire; A Woman's Weekend on the Red, Fargo, in the Best Package category. River Keepers grew from a desire to rediscover the Red River's heritage and to teach people to again appreciate the Red as a living River. In 1989, believing that it was time to promote a "new attitude about the River," and explore ways to develop the River as a recreational site, a team of architects proposed the creation of an organization to act in the position of River Keeper. This event promotes the river while educating women about maintaining the ecological health of the river. They also learn paddling and outdoor cooking techniques from skilled outdoor women. 

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