Push came to shove on Tuesday when the Porter County Convention, Recreation
and Visitors Commission, more commonly known as Indiana Dunes Tourism,
pledged to be proactive in clarifying the allegedly false information being
publicized by Lake County’s tourism commission.
The nine-member PCCRVC board gathered for their annual planning retreat at
the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center to strategically plan for the
future. The only matters which ended up being discussed by the board were
potential uses of space shared with the National Parks Service at the
visitor center and how to advocate its partnership with the Northern Indiana
Tourism Development Commission (NITDC).
Leading the retreat, Mitch Nichols of the Arizona-based Nichols Tourism
Group, said Indiana Dunes Tourism director Lorelei Weimer and her staff have
given a considerable amount of time to addressing claims made by Lake County
tourism president Speros Batistatos when the energy could be focused on
promoting attractions in Porter County.
“How do we get over this continual side battle that has been ensuing for so
long?” Nichols posed to the board.
Earlier this year, Batistatos in a press conference said his county
outperformed Porter County in occupied hotel rooms during 2011 while the
PCCRVC rebutted saying its rooms sold increased by 9.3 percent over Lake’s 5
percent growth according to figures in the Smith Travel Accommodations
Instead of ignoring Lake County Tourism’s attempts to force a merger between
the two commissions, PCCRVC board members and staff will “share their story”
with county and municipal officials on their successful involvement with
NITDC made up of Porter and six other counties.
NITDC formed in early 1990s when the county convention and visitors bureaus
(CVBs) wanted to combine efforts to promote attractions to the 110 million
visitors driving on the Indiana Toll Road on an annual basis, said NITDC
Executive Director Dan Bearss. Instead of competing against each other, the
CVBs decided to pool their resources and leverage funds to compete with
surrounding mega-markets like Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis. Each CVB
within the organization has the ability to advertise in publications such as
Chicago Tribune’s Travel Section and USA Today.
Bearss said NITDC has its own board with representatives from each
partnering CVB and benefits are reaped from having twenty years of respect
and trust for each other.
“Everyone now is talking about collaborations. We’ve been doing that for 22
years. We were doing regionalism before regionalism was cool,” said Bearss.
The CVBs share resources such as a website database system that gives each
member 70 percent more tools for promotions. Indiana Dune Tourism is using
the same system to create top-level websites for Porter County venues like
the parks and Expo Center.
The PCCRVC board mulled outreach methods they felt would be most effective
in relating its case to community members. Board member Richard Riley said
sending out mailers may not be enough. Board president Mitch Peters
suggested holding one-on-one talks with the entities represented on the
“I hope we are able to get the facts and bring that back to the bodies who
appointed us,” said Peters. “They’re going to get the straight news from
Nichols said other tourism commissions are seeing situations similar to
Porter County’s due to economic and political factors.
He did give the board a boost of confidence saying, “I think you have one of
the most productive regional alliances in the nation.”
NITDC was named one of the top three destination marketing organizations in
the nation according to a study done by Purdue University.
In another matter, the board voted unanimously to invite associates of the
National Park Service to be a part of discussions on redesigning space at
the visitor center, which it shares jointly with the county.
Nichols said sharing the space with the NPS is a unique situation and could
be a great way to maximize the experience for the travelers who walk through
Nichols suggested using multi-media displays to enhance visitors’
educational experiences such as electronic kiosks to give visitors the info
they seek. To get some ideas, Nichols showed the board slides of the
National Geographic Visitor Center which uses interactive exhibits and video
to teach visitors about the Grand Canyon.
But when trying to find a balance between what the NPS envisions for the
center and what the county tourism commission envisions, the board said the
decisions should be up to the customers. “It’s really a balancing act,”
Plans are to launch a new survey this year to understand specifically how
guests are using the visitor center and what elements are important to them.
From there, a subcommittee made up of three Indiana Dunes Tourism staff
members, two board members and representatives of the NPS will get the
results approximately in December and collaboratively create a timeline.
One or two conceptual designs for floor changes will be drawn up, along with
their associated costs. Once a consensus is established, the subcommittee
will identify steps to begin the renovations.
Weimer said the construction should not be anything major and everything can
be done within the space already there.
Peters felt the NPS should be involved and called for a motion to invite
them to be on the subcommittee, which passed unanimously.
“Let’s get going,” Peters said.
Weimer said the topics the board did not get to during the retreat will be
pushed back until the board meets again on May 8. One topic will be traffic
situations around Dunes State Park.