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