Chesterton Tribune

Consultant tells tourism office to market itself to local residents

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Results from a 2010 survey study on tourism in Porter County shows the number of visitors are on the rise, but suggests the county could benefit focusing on its internal resident base.

Consultant Mitch Nichols of Nichols Tourism Group reported back to the Indiana Dunes Tourism board on Thursday reviewing the results drawn from a survey made to assess how recent efforts by the county’s tourism bureau has impacted its visitor rate.

From the 612 interviewed by consumer lead, visitor center or lodging performance surveys over the span of 2010, researchers determined that Indiana Dunes Tourism (IDT) connects far more frequently with external visitors than its own residents by a 4 to 1 ratio.

Nichols said it is typical for tourism bureaus to use most of their energy promoting resources to those living outside the districts but could benefit from educating their own constituents how tourism plays a role in communities.

Many board members concurred with the suggestion to start an internal campaign using the recent data to make restaurants, hotels and attractions aware of the role they are playing in tourism.

The study also found that Porter County’s average travel party consists of 2.3 adults. More than half of visitors travel with persons under the age of 21, 47 percent are of mature age, 46 percent are of family age and 17 percent of passersby are of retirement age.

Over two-thirds of travelers have incomes above $50,000 and 43 percent are above $70,000 in income.

The county has a high level of repeat visitors, Nichols said, with 83 percent of subjects reporting they were repeat visitors. Almost one-third said they have stopped in the county at least four times.

Nichols challenged the board to get visitors to extend their stays since more than two-thirds of the subjects surveyed said they were on a day trip, a weekend getaway or just passing through.

When compared to other counties in the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, Porter County draws on average more tourists in activities such as hiking, swimming, bird watching, biking and fishing. Nichols advised these are areas or themes where more marketing attention could be focused.

“Getting those prospective visitors here is really a key opportunity,” said Nichols.

The county did falter slightly in dining and shopping by a few percentage points when compared broadly with Northern Indiana counties.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of IDT, said her agency has been active in getting Dunes visitors away from the state park and into communities with such initiatives as the Beyond the Beach campaign highlighting about 50 different attractions. Videos on the agency’s website detailing the Dunes include information on local attractions.

Board president Mitch Peters said IDT can look at the characteristics and demographics of county tourists and appeal to their unique interests.

Nichols said IDT has been instrumental in stimulating travel decisions for prospective visitors. More than 40 percent visit the website to collect information prior to a trip while about the same number reported using tourism office brochures.

The brochures, however, have been the chief information tool for visitors during their trip followed by the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center. When seeing the brochures, 37 percent ended up visiting additional attractions in the county. After seeing the travel info, 27 percent planned to visit the area again.

Over half of the travelers to the visitors center were experiencing Porter County for the first time and 93.7 percent stopped to pick up additional information brochures. Thirty-six percent traveled to downtown districts right after stopping at the visitors center.

Nichols said almost half of those surveyed at the visitors center sought information to decide on something to do in the broader area, although the Indiana Dunes are still the primary reason many visit Porter County.

Lodging and similar accommodations shone brighter in Porter County compared to its surrounding markets. For the first nine months of 2010, the county’s room demand exceeded competitors Michigan Southwest, Chicago South and Fort Wayne. One interesting finding is Porter County had a 77 percent growth rate over Lake County. If Lake County had achieved the same rate, it would mean over 17,000 additional room nights would be sold.

Nichols and his organization will launch a subsequent survey in 2012 and will redefine parameters focusing in on the strengths of IDT.





Posted 12/16/2011