MICHIGAN CITY | A major opportunity to significantly increase tourism providing more public access to Lake Michigan, especially in Lake and Porter counties, was among the ideas that came from a brainstorming session Monday about increasing future growth in Northwest Indiana tourism.
The brainstorming came during a retreat at Blue Chip Casino by the Hammond-based South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.
''I don't think we're utilizing it enough,'' said board member Robert Forster during an early afternoon roundtable discussion led by Bill Geist, the facilitator of the retreat.
Spero Batistatos, president and CEO of the SSCVA, said there are too many communities along the lake, such as Beverly Shores, that frown upon having visitors allowed to make their own rules on lake access.
What's needed is a more regional approach with fewer decision makers with authority to open up more areas along the lake for public access to the beaches, he said.
''There are communities that say, 'Go away,'" Batistatos said.
He said opening up restricted access along the shoreline in Lake and Porter counties is not a new idea but it's one that's run into road blocks.
"We have these communities who actually fight us because they don't want people in their neighborhoods," Batistatos said.
In the meantime, board members said people from the Chicago area continue to head as far east as Michigan to enjoy the beaches, taking money that instead could be spent in the region.
Other keys to generating more tourism is getting more communities to realize the assets they have could be turned into destinations, as well as creating a mindset among veteran decision makers in local communities that attracting visitors is good for the economy.
Board member Christopher Jones pointed to Cedar Lake as a destination that hasn't nearly reached its potential.
''People are scared of change. They really are,'' Jones said.
Other board members like Megan Cecil said more effort is needed to overcome a perception that northwest Indiana cannot compete with Chicago for a larger chunk of the tourism dollar.
''We always feel we're the ugly stepchild of Chicago. We can do these things,'' said Cecil.