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Passion & A Big Voice

Rachel Thompson rose quickly in her profession by learning from others and boldly expressing her ideas

By Todd R. Berger

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Stout with a degree in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management, Rachel Thompson knew she wanted a job with a convention and visitors bureau—any job. And to get one, she was willing to risk annoying the very person who could hire her.

Visit Greater St. Cloud’s executive director, Rachel Thompson || Photo by Anderson Hughs Productions

“The executive director (of Visit Greater St. Cloud was Julie Lunning) at the time, and I’m surprised she didn’t block me for how persistent I was in asking if she had absolutely any position available with the organization, and that I would love to be considered for it,” she recalls. “After college, I moved back home to help the St. Cloud Country Club run its weddings and events. At the end of my first season there, I made one last reach out to Lunning, and she responded with, ‘I’d love to consider you for one of the openings.’ And here I am.”

Hired as the sales coordinator in 2015, she moved up to sales manager in 2018, and stepped into the top job in 2021. She is also the chair of the Minnesota Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus board of directors, and, this year, Gov. Tim Walz appointed Thompson the central tourism marketing region representative for the Explore Minnesota Tourism Council.

“I come with a lot of passion and a really big voice, and sometimes it surprises people, coming from a person with such a small stature, how big of a presence I can make,” she laughs, noting she is 4-foot-11 “on a good day.”

Likely, her presence has caught the attention of most, as she was honored as an emerging tourism leader by Explore Minnesota Tourism last year, an emerging tourism star by the E-Tourism Summit in 2022, and an up-and-coming supplier of the year in the Minnesota Meetings + Events Hall of Fame Awards in 2020.

However, when asked to highlight meetings and events in Greater St. Cloud, she talks about her staff, not herself. She says, “We are so fortunate to have three team members who are dedicated to event bidding and securing events in our region. They are the powerhouse behind our meetings, events, and sports, as well as in conjunction with our venues. They are the ones pushing hard every day to help event planners see what hosting in the area can look like.”