BEMIDJI-As tourism season begins anew in Bemidji, the executive director for the local visitors and conventions bureau will pass the torch to new leadership.

During a Visit Bemidji meeting Wednesday, Executive Director Susan Goudge discussed the upcoming hiring process and said her last day in the position will be May 31. According to Goudge, she planned to retire last year, but pushed back the date to integrate new staff.

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"I was going to retire at the end of last year, but then (destination specialist) Cindy Habedank retired, and I was in a position where I had two vacancies out of three on staff," Goudge told the Pioneer. "So I was successful in recruiting two amazing employees, and I was committed to training and educating them since they were new to hospitality. With that task completed, I'm ready for my retirement."

In Goudge's five years, there's been several changes for Visit Bemidji. In August 2016, for example, the Visit Bemidji Board was expanded from nine to 14 members. Then, a month later, the bureau unveiled a new website.

In 2017, Visit Bemidji relocated to the Tourist Information Center, sharing space with the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, and helped lead the charge in Minnesota Monthly magazine's Best MN Town contest. In November 2017, Bemidji was named the winner of Best MN Town and Goudge accepted the award on the town's behalf.

"It was a huge accomplishment being named Best MN Town," Goudge told the Pioneer. "Throughout my time here we've also been able to identify new niche markets. For example, reaching out to the birding community. Today, we approved a new digital campaign for birding we will run this summer."

Visit Bemidji was also recognized during the 2018 Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference, where it received a marketing award of excellence for hosting the 2017 Bassmaster College Fishing Tournament.

The Visit Bemidji Board plans to form a hiring committee of about five people, and will reach out to other regional visitors bureau directors for help.

Visit Bemidji started in the late 1980s and is funded through a 3 percent lodging tax, as it contracts with the city to conduct local promotion.