Chesterton Tribune



Businesses who don't update listings may be dropped from tourism directory

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Local businesses could find their listings in Indiana Dunes Tourism’s online directory made inactive if they go a certain amount of time without updating or affirming the details in their listings.

Dunes Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said at Thursday’s Tourism Board meeting that visitors expect the Dunes Tourism website to provide correct information on local businesses and attractions. “If we don’t have the businesses reviewing their info, making corrections and signing off on it, we are potentially putting bad info out there,” Weimer said.

Dunes Tourism maintains a database of nearly 700 local businesses that are searchable on its website and sends annual forms to businesses asking them to either affirm that the details of their listings are correct, or submit new information. Businesses are not charged for the listings.

Tourism Assistant Director Christine Livingston reports Tourism has a very poor response rate for those annual surveys, and Weimer added that it’s often hard to confirm even simple details by phone if the owner isn’t around and employees are reluctant to answer questions.

Weimer said, though the website looks great on the front end, it takes a lot of work to maintain. Tourism staff recently completed an overhaul of the database to make sure listings are accurate and consistent across the multiple webpages and guides where they appear. Weimer said it was a massive project that took Tourism staff six months and at least five thorough passes through the database and each of the listings.

Board member Kurt Gillins, who handles programs and communication for the Valpo Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber has a better response rate since businesses pay for a membership, but they’re response rate still doesn’t break 50 percent. They’ve also retuned to using paper surveys after going electronic yielded even less.

Board President Mitch Peters was concerned about how many businesses might have their listings made inactive if they miss the annual form. “If the return rate is around 30 percent, we’ll go from 666 listings to 222,” Peters said, “and if we make 444 inactive, most of those will be good businesses we don’t want to have to make inactive.” Peters added that of the many businesses that don’t respond, there could be only a few dozen staff has to worry about.

“That’s why we don’t do it,” Livingston said. She added that one missed annual update wouldn’t be enough to make a listing inactive--the timeframe is still to be decided.

Peters asked the staff to work on a written policy. Weimer said staff will continue to go a long way to get in touch with people and educate them about updating their listings.

Visitor Center Redesign Plans

Weimer gave an update on plans for redesigning the interior of the Visitor Center. Weimer said Tourism got plans for a $ 1.6 million redesign of the Visitor Center to make it more interactive and modern five years ago. An architect out of Arizona that does a lot of work on National Park visitor centers recently updated the plans ,which are crucial as a deliverable in the search for funding, according to Weimer.

The architect concluded phased construction would be difficult and disruptive, and the only part of the building that could be done by itself is the theater, according to Weimer. The theater is currently a limited use space with 112 fixed seats. The new proposal is to combine the theater and the adjacent exhibit space for everyday use, and have doors that could close off the theater for special events. The fixed seats would be removed and replaced with chairs that can be stored or rearranged.

Other plans include making the Visitor Center more interactive and inviting by enlarging the front desk and installing touch screen maps, seasonal exhibits, and live video feeds of what’s happening in the Dunes. Weimer said a new exhibit space would also tell the story of the communities nearby to entice visitors. “We need to get them into our communities,” she said. “It is critical for us to get them to understand what’s south of the dunes and get them excited about that.”

Social Media/PR

Livingston reported she’s launched a new online marketing campaigns targeting German- and French-speaking travelers. Weimer said Germany has always been the number one country international visitors to the Dunes hail from, and Canada is always close behind it. The campaign has already generated higher than average click-through rates and dozens of reactions on Facebook.

Weimer noted the Visitor Center had visitors from 64 countries last year, which is up from the historic high of 50. Visitors included travelers from as far away as Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Croatia, and the Czech Republic.

New Community Engagement Director Michelle Senderhauf reported Dunes Tourism ended 2019 with approximately 3.8 million impressions and 148,700 engagements on social media.

Senderhauf succeeds Kailey Capuano, who left her position at Dunes Tourism at the end of the year to pursue graduate school. Senderhauf has formerly worked for Ford, AARP, and General Electric, among others.

Senderhauf also reported Indiana Dunes’ Instagram following shot up by 58 percent, while Facebook and Twitter also increased. Indiana Dunes National Park got a mention on a recent episode of “Good Morning America,” and has been featured on a lot of “Top 10” and “Top 5” lists online, she said.



Posted 1/22/2020





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