Hospitality’s in the blood

Departing director leaves Visit Minot with strong relationships

Jill Schramm/MDN Outgoing Visit Minot executive director Phyllis Burckhard takes a seat with Thorvald, the iconic troll at the Visit Minot headquarters and gift shop on Thursday, her second-to-last day on the job.

After five years at the helm of Visit Minot, Phyllis Burckhard might be walking away from the organization but not from promoting Minot.

“I love hospitality and tourism. It’s been in my blood,” said Burckhard, whose last day as executive director is today. She is stepping down to take a break from the heavy demands of the position.

Burckhard said she plans to take some time for herself before getting back into the job market. After devoting so much effort at the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau to working with the Family Motor Coach Association regarding its August convention in Minot, she plans to volunteer for the association during its stay. She also intends to continue volunteering in September at Norsk Hostfest with Musikk Butikk, which works with entertainers and merchandisers to offer their items. She’s been helping to manage the Musikk Butikk booths for about 25 years.

For more than 25 years, she has worn the red jacket of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, and she plans to continue. The ambassadors are present at ribbon cuttings, First Dollar award presentations and Business After Hours. They distribute chamber directories and call on businesses to get their input.

Burckhard’s history with Minot includes serving as general manager at the Fairfield Inn when the hotel opened in Minot and later working for Choice Hotels for 15 years. When she joined Visit Minot, the organization was feeling the impact of economic changes.

“It’s been kind of a rollercoaster ride because I came in at a tough time,” Burckhard recalled.

A drop in the lodging tax that funds Visit Minot led to a reduction in staff from five to three. Visit Minot also took over management of the tourist gift shop and volunteers.

“I feel that we have come so far from when I started, as far as the revenue that we’re bringing in. I think that we really established a strong relationship with the Innkeepers Association,” she said. “On a positive note, we’ve seen some events continuing to come back to Minot.”

She acknowledged the measurement of Visit Minot’s success rests on bringing in events.

“We are doing that. We are going out there looking, even if it’s not for this year. That’s what our goal has been,” she said. “I think we’re on the right track there, and we just need to continue to do it.”

She noted Visit Minot worked closely with the State Fair, without whom the motor coach convention would not be coming back. Partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce, Minot Park District, City of Minot and others have been significant, she added.

“I do think one of the keys is working together, really establishing a solid partnership with the city,” Burckhard said. “Another thing that is key to this role is the relationship that I built around the state with the other CVBs. We work very closely with them and with North Dakota Tourism.”

Visit Minot also participates in the city’s International Economic Development Council activities. One of the activities involves selecting a marketing group to create a One Brand for Minot. Visit Minot is a lead agency in that effort.

“It’s going to take time, but I think we’re on the right track. We need to have a great brand for our city and continue to show them the magic of Minot,” Burckhard said. “We have the magic. There is just something special about the people that live here.”

Looking back on her tenure, Burckhard lists the people she’s worked with and the opportunity to promote Minot as the highlights.

“I feel good about the relationships that I’ve built throughout the city at every level and with the people that come to Minot. It’s all about the people. I believe I represent Minot very well, and I am proud to do what I do. It’s been very rewarding,” she said.

The Visit Minot board is reviewing about 20 applicants to fill the executive director’s position. It expects to conduct interviews in August and have someone hired to start in September.

Looking ahead, Burckhard sees untapped opportunities for Minot in tourism. A year-round sports events center would be helpful in recruiting events, but in many respects, Minot can build on what it has, she said.

“We need to look at the size of community we are and be good at and try to succeed at the level that we are. We don’t probably have everything that some of the larger communities have because of space, but I think we need to take a look at that and then find out what will work in Minot and really continue to have a positive attitude that we can begin to make this happen.”