Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Nationwide travel slump felt here, tourism board told

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

With the tourism industry in a slump, the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission is expecting another challenging year but it is not afraid to try a few new tricks.

Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said at Tuesday’s PCCRVC meeting the visitor volume in Indiana was down nearly five percent according to a report presented to the Indiana Tourism Council in December. She said the report indicated business travel has been hit the hardest while leisure travel has decreased only slightly.

Weimer also said attractions with larger price tags faced greater difficulty in attracting visitors compared to attractions with smaller price tags. Dunes State Park saw increases in 2009 visitation, as did other state parks, due to low costs.

“People are trying to save money,” said Weimer. “Frugality plays a big part in traveling these days.”

Leisure travel is expected to show some recovery gains in 2010, but not enough to offset declines seen in 2009. Travel is expected to pick up, but the change will be slow, Weimer said. The goal is to take on challenges as they come along and give things time to turn around.

PCCRVC board member Jeff Good, who owns a hotel in Valparaiso, said the county has been hit worse by the recession compared to most areas, reporting that business is down by nearly 30 percent, nearly twice the national average. Good also said his property taxes have risen by 15 percent leaving very little income.

“It is going to be a very long road back,” said Good.

Weimer and her staff are setting their priorities towards a marketing plan that will target the different interests of potential visitors to Porter County. The PCCRVC is in the process of working with Destination Development International (DDI) on a new marketing direction.

DDI will assist the visitors’ center in creating a new branding look for their Web site, guides and brochures. PCCRVC Director of Marketing Becky Fox said the new Web site will be completed approximately May 1.

Fox said changes will be made to the Travel Planner guide that is put out by the PCCRVC annually. The new guide will now be called “Activities Guide” and will include a different structure by the writing team. The guide, targeted for release on Mar. 15, will include itineraries and short stories to go with the readers’ many interests and niches the team plans to meet.

Good said he would like to see the Web site done in a way that is more interactive. He said the current PCCRVC Web site is “static” and that more hotels are looking for ways to hook their customers online. He said all hotels across the board are facing this challenge as the online world is an area that is changing rapidly. Good said he wished there was a feature on the Web site that would include a link to all the hotels in Porter County.

“People want to find a place where they can stay first and then they’ll check out what kinds of things are in the area,” said Good.

Weimer said the Web site will take time to build, but said they are talking with a Web development team called Verve to develop a more attractive Web site. She plans to meet with Verve later this month.

The PCCRVC Board and staff plans to continue working with Valparaiso University in getting students and their parents interested in the area, particularly downtown Valparaiso and Dunes State Park.

Niche Market Director Christine Livingston said sports have also brought more people to the area. She said she has talked with different towns and cities in Porter County to help promote hosting sporting events.

Board Elections Tabled

PCCRVC Board President Michael Scott at the start of the meeting recommended the board hold off on elections due to a vacant board seat that has yet to be appointed by the Porter County Council. The county council tabled their decision for their PCCRVC appointee at their Jan. 5 reorganization meeting when there was some confusion on whether the appointee needed to be a Democrat or a Republican.

Good made the motion that elections be tabled until the council makes its decision. The council is expected to make their decision at their upcoming meeting on Feb. 23, one week before the next PCCRVC Board of Directors meeting on Feb. 16.

The board also voted to table a new grant application. The group Hunt of a Lifetime, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to grant hunting adventures for children with life threatening illnesses, asked the PCCRVC if they would give $3,000 in remaining grant money to help pay for entertainment at an event scheduled for March 13 in Chesterton. The board was unable to determine what entertainment acts were available.

The board did, however, award a grant submitted by the Hebron Redevelopment Commission. The HRC asked the PCCRVC for $600 in order to help promote the Hebron Winterfest on Jan. 30.

“We feel the need to give back to that part of the county,” said Good.

The PCCRVC also will transfer $17,820 to the Expo Center, the Memorial Opera House and the Old Jail Museum as part of an annual venue fund. The board expressed desire to give more money to these venues in order to keep them from falling into disrepair. Weimer said she hopes to open a dialogue with the Porter County Board of Commissioners to see if they would be willing to put more money into the annual funds.

 

Posted 1/20/2010

 

 

 

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