As residents and taxpayers of the South Shore, we've learned the importance of the hospitality industry and depend on its positive impact to the economy. We can also see the difference when travel decreases, occupancy rates go down, once-thriving restaurants close and parking lots become vacant. The hospitality industry and visitor spending has a direct impact on the services offered and the quality of life in our community.
Visitors to the South Shore come for a variety of reasons: meetings and sporting events are a major part of the hospitality industry, filling hotel rooms and bringing millions of dollars to the local economy.
Leisure travelers make up another portion of the industry, coming here purely as a getaway or visiting friends and relatives (VFR). During a leisure visit, these travelers will spend their money at an array of attractions, restaurants and shopping centers.
Visitors are hard to pick out. They look just like us; you never know when you're standing in line or sitting in a restaurant and the person next to you is from out-of-town.
We are the first to take for granted the numerous attractions, events and activities available in the South Shore. Having the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, five lakefront casinos, nationally recognized festivals, unique attractions and even Chicago just a short drive away are all reasons why we choose to live here and people visit Northwest Indiana.
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority and a dozen participating partners will be hosting a first-time event, Explore the South Shore, on May 14. The Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond will host a variety of organizations to showcase what they will be offering to visitors and residents in 2011.
Each partner featured will offer a sampling of what can be expected this travel season including live entertainment, train rides, giveaways, mascots, classic cars, an inflatable bounce house and even live animals. It will be a fun event for residents of all ages.
As gas prices rise, families won't be planning as many trips to Disney World and will stay close to home. This is the perfect time to rediscover the wonderful activities, attractions and events the South Shore has to offer.
To learn more about the event and the SSCVA partners, visit www.explorethesouthshore.com.
Speros Batistatos is president/CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.