Chesterton Tribune



Board told state lags behind neighbors in spending tax funds to subsidize tourism industry

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Sometimes it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.

Indiana allocates about $4 million to $ 7 million for tourism spending each year, while Michigan’s dedicates $30 million in its budget, Wisconsin dishes out $15 million and Illinois spends $55 million.

But the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission still manages to stay ahead of the curve, according to its executive director Lorelei Weimer.

Weimer delivered this year’s State of Indiana Dunes Tourism to a roomful of tourism officials, business owners, community leaders and other guests at Riley’s Railhouse in Chesterton on Thursday where she highlighted the economic impact of tourism in the county and the obstacles it faces in the future.

Tourism was responsible for adding $413 million to Porter County’s economy in 2015, Weimer told the crowd, according to the impact study done by Certic Inc.

“When you think of those big economic engines, you really think of steel. But tourism is a huge contributor to our local economy,” she said.

The study results released last month state that tourism supports 5,075 jobs in the county and supports $98.7 million in wages.

The PCCRVC, which markets destinations throughout the county with innkeeper’s tax collected from local hoteliers, is focusing 95 percent of its advertising budget on digital platforms like social media. That way it is easier to track progress, Weimer said. Weimer said in 2016 the number of Facebook followers climbed by 6 percent, 15 percent on Instagram and 16 percent on Twitter.

Facebook has been the most effective way to advertise, Weimer said.

“Advertising does not motivate visitors to come and spend their time here. What it does is it gets them to start thinking about our destinations in their minds. What’s going to drive our visitor is our information, so we put a lot of information into our website,’ Weimer said.

The Indiana Dunes Tourism website saw 380,000 unique users in 2016. The PCCRVC staff has added pages dedicated to niche outdoor attractions like biking, fishing and birding. They’ve also added a page for destination weddings which saw 18,359 views.

The yearly activity guide is getting a digital version that will be interactive. Weimer said business that have websites and videos can have those linked to the guide.

Weimer also shared that earlier this week, Midwest Living magazine named the PCCRVC’s activity guide as the best in Indiana with a marketing budget of under $300,000.

Last year was also a flagship year in the physical world for Porter County tourism. Over 101,000 people walked through the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center on Ind. 49, which is significant compared to the 7,500 average visitors per year at the PCCRVC’s former location on Indian Boundary Rd., Weimer said.

Weimer thanked the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore staff for greeting guests at the Visitor Center. The two entities are collaborating on a Native American Trail at the visitor center this year.

The presentation ended with Weimer telling what paid consultants have told her are the weaknesses they see. She said that consulting groups are “shocked” to see that there is such a “disconnect” between the communities and the Indiana Dunes, not taking advantage of something that brings a huge number of tourists.

“You’ve got three million people at the Dunes, eighty percent are from outside this area and they have money. And they’re trying to figure out why you are not trying to capture that money,” Weimer said. “We have some theories of why there might be that disconnect but it’s a golden opportunity for our communities to embrace that Indiana Dunes brand.”

One shortcoming Weimer mentioned was not having many outfitters that can provide materials and guides for outdoor attractions. Another was the shortage of wayfinding signage in the county.

Many communities do have signage to get around their towns and cities but none on how to circulate to other communities. For example, people traveling on U.S. 30 wouldn’t know that the Dunes are to the north and the Kankakee River is to the south, Weimer said.

“It makes a huge difference in getting people around,” said Weimer.

Non-tax expenditures

Before Weimer’s presentation, the PCCRVC board met briefly to approve an updated list of approved expenditures that can be purchased with non-tax revenue or the money collected from selling advertising space in printed guides and online.

According to the list, non-tax revenue can be utilized for such things as marketing and promotion, special events, printing, retail and promotion items, payment of staff for work expenses, special meals with consultants or other professionals regarding business, office supplies and equipment, training and education, and projects that “enhance product within Porter County.”

Monthly expenditures will be provided to the board monthly for its approval.



Posted 3/17/2017





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