Chesterton Tribune

Porter County tourism to defend against Lake County, look at visitor center space

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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 Report.

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 board.

“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 you.”

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.

Visitor Center Space

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 the door.

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,” Nichols said.

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.

Next meeting

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.



Posted 4/11/2012