Lake Michigan's South Shore offers beauty, history, fun and excitement with a mix of big-city fun and small-town friendliness. With five lakefront casino boats for the thrill of gaming; excellent restaurants; top name entertainment and performers; historic towns and shopping; gorgeous overnight accommodations; the arts, both visual and performing; year-round events; outdoor adventures on miles of beaches, trails and sand dunes; and facilities for meetings and conventions and team sports, the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority is busy helping active travelers and locals enjoy all the region has to offer. The numbers speak for themselves—the South Shore of Indiana is the place to be. The South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority has generated more than 17,500 room nights for the year 2014 with an estimated economic impact of more than $4.2 million, and this number is expected to increase.
Speros A. Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority says that the course of their work over the next 12 to 18 months will be to rely on their strengths as a creator of travel and driver for local business. “We’re going to focus on continuing to run the successful plays we know result in business. We are going back to our playbook, and one of the ways we do that is by focusing on sports,” he says. The South Shore has hosted the National Softball Association Girls Fast Pitch 'B' World Series three times in the past seven years. This event has brought in more than 30,000 people, generated more than 10,000 room nights with an estimated economic impact of more than $3 million during that time. The South Shore will host this event again July 21 through 26, 2014. Therefore, the South Shore region is looking at bringing in another 10,000 participants and spectators generating more than 4,000 room nights with an economic impact of more than $1 million during this week in July. There are other sports events to draw tourists and business to the region as well.
Batistatos says, “We are looking forward to the return of Lutheran Basketball which we’ve hosted for more than 35 years, the tennis table championships, and we are looking into hosting championship corn-hole tournaments, amateur golf events, and more non-concussion sports as more and more parents support sports that won’t give their children any major injury. Families will always spend money on their kids and these types of events impact a lot of local businesses. Sporting events help the locals understand the power of travel. We will continue to execute the very solid play we have there.”
Bring It Home
The support of local businesses and organization leaders is essential in helping to attract tourists to the region. This has resulted in an initiative that the South Shore CVA calls “Bring It Home.” The idea is for local associations, community leaders, elected officials and sporting groups to let the South Shore CVA know about events and conventions that they attend to seize the opportunity to host those events here along the South Shore.
“Many times our biggest piece of business is from this area, like the Shriners convention years ago, and a lot of people who might belong to various civic and service groups can consider hosting their national or state meetings right here in the South Shore. We are looking to support members of our local Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs and other groups in enabling them to bring those meetings back here to Lake County Indiana. We’ve had a long list of successes in this area and the average resident can create business and open the door for us. We can put together the package to make it happen,” says Batistatos.
The South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority recognized that the way to make travel to the region more accessible is by reaching people through the ways our modern society communicates—technology. The South Shore CVA was the first destination marketing organization to launch a mobile site using geocentric functionality. This functionality allows a visitor to view the South Shore CVA’s partner attractions, restaurants, and shopping by distance to where they are currently located. For instance, if a guest is staying at a Merrillville hotel and they were looking for a nearby restaurant, restaurants in that area would pull up first rather than alphabetically like they do on the South Shore CVA’s main website.
Batistatos says, “We’ve spent a good amount of time and money to make sure we are the most technologically advanced tourist bureau in the Midwest. We were the first to launch a geocentric mobile site so as you’re driving and you want to ask questions about what the attractions are in that region you can receive information through the use of GIS technology. Los Angeles didn’t do it, New York City didn’t do it, Chicago didn’t do it, Orlando didn’t do it, we did it and part of the reason why you see us spending so much time and energy on technology is that it’s the great leveler. We can compete with larger destinations with our technology.”
The mobile site launched on May 1, 2013. The South Shore CVA had 13,315 page views on the mobile site in 2012 and in 2013 the mobile site had 187,557 page views which is an increase of more than 1,308 percent. There were 4,083 visits to the mobile site in 2012 and 60,539 visits to the mobile site in 2013 with an increase of 1,383 percent. As a result, the South Shore CVA won two awards for the mobile website last year including the 2013 MarCom Gold Award for New Mobile Website and the 2013 W3 Silver Winner.
The use of technology also tailors information to the individual visitor. “With many of our larger local events, such as our sporting events, we work with our event planners to gather information on our clients so we can send very detailed and carefully crafted emails that offer visitors coupons and special offers designed just for that group. If it’s a soccer event, visitors may receive emails about local fast food, or if it’s a banking convention they may receive information on local jewelers. We really tailor information to the visitor to help customize their experience here,” says Batistatos.
But the work doesn’t stop there. Batistatos continues, “Once the event has come and gone, we send visitors a survey to find out how much they spent, will they come back, do they want to receive info on a golf package or family getaways so we can market festivals, so all of these things converge in a way that we can get people into a database. We want them to have a great experience and use smart technology to bring them back. We want to attract people based on what they want to see and over the course of the next year we will be unveiling a number of new ways to do this through our technology, such as a microbrewery tour on our website, art trails, and giving the customer the experience they want to have.”