Chesterton Tribune



Beyond the Beach, Three Dune Challenge boost Indiana Dunes tourism numbers

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Indiana Dunes Tourism's outreach programs have led to some impressive gains, consultant Mitch Nichols of Nichols Tourism Group said Thursday.

In a conference call with the Porter County Tourism Board, Nichols compared its statistics to those of six Northern Indiana counties combined. In nearly every category, IDT outperformed the average, sometimes markedly so.

Overall, 2,360 people completed surveys. Of the 319 IDT people surveyed, two-thirds came to the Indiana Dunes after obtaining travel information from IDT.

Because of viewing or having those materials, Nichols continued, 34 percent visited more attractions/activities than they originally planned, 28 percent increased the amount of time spent here, 21 percent of them specifically in Porter County.

IDT executive director Lorelei Weimer said in 1994 the average stay was one day. Now it's 2.6 days, and Nichols said the average visitor group was 3 persons who are significantly younger than most travelers.

When visitors compare their Indiana Dunes trip to similar trips they've taken in the past three years, 42 percent said they had a better or significantly better experience here.

About 40 percent have traveled to the Indiana Dunes four or more times, 10 points higher than Northern Indiana generally. The challenge, said Nichols, is to keep visitors coming back on multiple occasions.

He agreed with IDT's approach to using the Indiana Dunes as an anchor to pull visitors in while marketing other nearby attractions/events. Those surveyed said outdoor recreation was dominant in their selected activities here, but there could be more shopping and dining used, said Nichols.

Weimer said she believes Porter County has excellent dining choices, something IDT has promoted through an association with Midwest Living magazine. Special promotions, like the current Northern Indiana "Burger Wars", create interest.

Octave Grill in Chesterton won in the burger balloting; second-place Franklin House in Valparaiso also advances representing Porter County to face off against six other Northern Indiana county's winners.

Nichols said IDT's website promotions like "What's New" and special offers and savings are how to tap new/returning visitor markets.

The Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail campaign is catching on to give visitors to the Indiana Dunes and Dunes National Lakeshore parks reason to extend their stay, he continued, and the 3 Dune Challenge launched last week holds promise.

Weimer said some people mistakenly think because Mt. Baldy is closed, all the Indiana Dunes are closed. The 3 Dune Challenge promotion wants to counteract that perception. Special marketing and signage help Dunes State Park visitors find and hike a trail to climb the Mt. Tom, Mt. Jackson and Mt. Holden dunes.

Being marketed to both families and athletes, Weimer said IDT is working to expand the trail to 10K for extreme-sports enthusiasts in addition to the current 1.5-mile trail.

In other business, the Tourism Board approved a 2015 budget to forward for review; it reflects a $20,097 reduction. Also, this month Porter County Commissioners will receive draft reports regarding the expo center redevelopment and sports development study.

IDT staff is meeting to discuss the advantages of reviving the individual branding efforts within local communities.



Posted 6/20/2014