Charlene Selbee
Charlene Selbee
There are many things to consider when marketing Decorah to tourists. 
And new Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Charlene Corson Selbee thinks practicing sustainable tourism is a necessity. 
“You can’t just take into account the financial benefits. You have to consider the cultural and environmental bottom lines as well,” said Selbee, who started with the WCCVB in May. 
“What if you bring in too many tourists and they overrun the town? Towns can go bankrupt. We’re not equipped to bring in the world’s fair or the Olympics. We have to look at our resources,” she said. 
Selbee, a Hesper native, has a masters degree in tourism administration/sustainable tourism and a bachelor’s degree in travel and tourism. She has spent the past 20 years working in the tourism industry in New Mexico, as well as teaching tourism, hotel front-office operations, event planning and tourism marketing classes at both Central New Mexico Community College and New Mexico State University. 

Do what works
Selbee said sustainable tourism is all about deciding what works for a particular community or area. 
“Years ago, New Mexico was thinking about trying to reproduce something like RAGBRAI. We came here and did the entire event. We looked at it, and based on our resources, decided we could not model it in New Mexico because people were concerned with the impact (of all the visitors),” she said. 
“Just because it might make us money, it’s still not always the best decision.” 
Selbee said her No. 1 priority is involving all stakeholders in decisions about the direction tourism should take. 
“I don’t want it to be Charlene’s idea or Charlene’s decision. Everyone can have the same ideas … it’s just getting them all on the same path to make them happen,” she said. 

Still the same
Selbee said it has been rewarding to come back to Decorah, to see the values she was raised with are still evident. 
“A lot of things haven’t changed. The fairgrounds still feel the same. Everyone is still friendly … When you drive these roads, people wave. That hasn’t been my experience in other places,” she said. 

Creating partnerships
Selbee said one of the things she wants the community to understand is that tourism is everyone’s responsibility. 
“Class reunions help bring tourism to the county, and I want people to know if they’re going to be hosting a group they can come to the Visitors Center to get maps, etc.” she said. 
In addition, Selbee said tourism can also assist in recruiting industry to town. 
“We can look at different industries, such as call centers or technology. This area has an unbelievable offering of fitness and fine arts opportunities and culinary delights. There are so many people living here with advanced education,” she added. 

Moving forward
Selbee said Decorah is lucky to have so many willing volunteers, and without them, she wouldn’t be able to accomplish many of her ideas. 
“I’ve already implemented some things, like extending the hours of the Visitors Center,” said Selbee. 
“If we don’t think like tourists and act like tourists, we won’t be able to serve them.” 
Selbee recently tapped into some “awesome volunteers” who are helping staff the Visitors Center on Saturdays from 10-4 and Sundays from 12-4. The Visitors Center is also open on many holidays, such as the 4th of July. 

Selling the product
Selbee also is working to organize some tours for local volunteers and frontline staff at local establishments. 
“I want to take these people to the winery or Vesterheim or the different restaurants. You can’t sell the product if you’ve never been there,” she said. 
Selbee said she wants the WCCVB to take the lead in bringing tourism to town, but she hopes others are willing to come forward with their ideas. 
“I want to make sure we’re setting an example, but my other goal is to work with the community on what kinds of things we can offer to attract people during the winter, for example. It’s my favorite season and I just think it’s beautiful,” she said. 
While Selbee said she welcomes comments, she said she is not someone the public will necessarily always find in her office. 
“I can foresee getting some comments about never being in my office, but I like to be out and about talking to tourists,” she said. 
Selbee replaces Brenda Luzum, who served the WCCVB for nine years prior to taking a job with Upper Iowa University. 
For more information about tourism and volunteer opportunities, call Selbee at 563-382-3990 or visit decoraharea.com.