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A place for visitors: Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau works to increase tourism during oil slowdown

Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau stands in front of a board that visitors can place where they are visiting from. Thiel said the CVB is working now on marketing and advertising for hunters to visit the Dickinson area. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)

With summer winding into fall, tourists will start making their way back home and waiting for another year to come for a relaxing break.

The employees at the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau, however, have to kick their work into overtime to compensate for the lack of tourism in the area the past year.

Terri Thiel, the CVB's executive director, said the organization's focus now is working to try to bring sportsmen and women to the Dickinson area during hunting season.

"The last year has been kind of a challenge for us because we ran into the triple effect," she said. "We ran into two or three years of really tough weather, which was hard on the birds. We lost a lot of CRP statewide. And then we ended up with the oil development where guys couldn't even get rooms because they were so high priced. So for a year or two, I didn't advertise for hunting because it was like the perfect storm and it just crashed us."

Thiel said the CVB is going to focus on marketing "a lot of birds, a lot of rooms, good rates."

The CVB is largely funded through a 2 percent hotel occupancy taxes and occupancy in Dickinson has been teetering around 50 percent for the past year.

Thiel said that while it is a concern for the CVB, which relies on that funding, there are much cheaper and newer lodging options for travelers.

"A few years ago, rates were higher than usual and full," she said. "So we had that side of it and now it's dribbled down to this other side of it and rates have gone down dramatically."

Thiel said the average for hotels this summer has been $77 a night.

Employees are now able to market to groups they haven't been able to in the past because hotels were at high occupancy and high rates due to oil workers.

Thiel said the goal of the CVB is to get visitors to the area to help the transportation, accommodation, and food and beverage services industry.

"What we do is try to attract the short-term visitor to create economic impact within our hospitality industry," she said. "We also do meetings and conventions, and that's another market."

Thiel said they also try to work with the sports industry to bring in economic diversity throughout the year.

"We push the unique," she said of the boutique retail and local restaurants.

Thiel said if she was selling people on coming to North Dakota for the first time, she would encourage people to go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The New York Times named the park the No. 5 place in the world to visit in 2016, and with the National Parks Service celebrating its 100th anniversary, Thiel said tourism to Medora and the park has been doing well this year.

"We've had people that will come in and set Dickinson as their base for their vacation," she said. "It's actually kind of central."

Thiel said there has even been people who have moved to Dickinson

Loving what she does

There are three full-time employees and two part-time summer employees.

Peggy Rixen-Kuntz, 86, has been working as a summer employee for 16 years and was honored as the Governor's Travel and Tourism frontline employee of the year in 2012.

"I'm still able to put both feet on the floor," she said. "Isn't that a gift?"

While she was born in Minnesota, western North Dakota has been in Rixen-Kuntz's blood since 1934.

Theil said Rixen-Kuntz embodies professionalism and is always enthusiastic when visitors come through the door.

"I love every minute of it," Rixen-Kuntz said. "They are so good to me and so kind. I know for a lot of people they don't understand it when I say that I have not had a day where I didn't want to go to work."

Rixen-Kuntz said it doesn't even feel like working at the CVB because she loves what she does and the people she works with.

"I just happen to love people," she said. "And it's not hard for me to sell North Dakota. To me, North Dakota is one of the finest places to live. The people are phenomenal."

Rixen-Kuntz and other employees at the CVB give visitors information on local attractions, restaurants, shopping and lodging.

"I feel like the things that I am able to tell them, come from the heart," she said.