Visitor spending means big business in NWI

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z 2014-08-29T17:30:15Z Visitor spending means big business in NWIBy Lorelei Weimer nwitimes.com
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I was lucky enough last summer to enjoy a wonderful vacation, one with plenty of beach time, lots of great hiking, fun attractions and dining at some of the best restaurants.

So where did I go?

Right here in Northwest Indiana.

And I wasn’t the only one. Last year was a prosperous one for tourism in Northwest Indiana. The lodging report is a strong indicator of the health of a tourism market. Smith Travel Research reports that in 2012, Porter County's occupancy increased by 15.5 percent, the number of rooms sold increased by 14.5 percent and the room revenue increased by 11.9 percent. Lake County's occupancy increased by 9 percent, its rooms sold by 9.4 percent and its room revenue by 11.1 percent.

Visitor spending means big business in Northwest Indiana. What drives visitation to our area? It’s the unique “product” we have to offer. We have the number one attraction in Indiana — the Indiana Dunes, plus we have our appealing downtowns, unique restaurants, attractions such as casinos, an outlet mall, Michigan City Zoo, Portage 16 IMAX, Albanese Candy, Hoosier Bat Co., Taltree Arboretum, Lake Michigan, water parks, arts, theaters and festivals.

What is the role of your tourism bureau in this mix? It’s to market our destinations and increase visitor spending. Every dollar invested in a tourism bureau brings a return of $15.

What is on the horizon for tourism this year? The Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, a regional marketing group of seven counties, which include Porter and LaPorte counties, has some exciting plans. We kick off the travel season with our fourth edition of the Arts & Earth Trail guide, which features 165 businesses, and the Foodie Trail, which was developed by Midwest Living and features 28 foodie destinations.

We continue to refine and improve the infrastructure of our website. Several years ago, all the tourism bureaus in NITDC leveraged our resources to create one website with eight sub-sites. This allowed us to create a state-of-the-art website and allowed cross promotion among the region.

We promote northern Indiana at the 10 travel plazas along the toll road. Up to 1.5 million people stop at each travel plaza annually. NITDC is launching the Tourist Assistance Portal on the Toll Road in April. TAP is an interactive touch-screen that acts as a virtual tour guide. TAP includes interactive, up-to-the minute guides to local businesses, complete with maps, menus and photo galleries. TAP provides the unique ability to send important information to the user’s smart phones and tablets.

Finally, we are working with 435 digital services to do extensive online marketing to increase our market penetration, lead generation and conversion optimization in our largest geographical market of Chicago.

NITDCs motto is: What can we do together that we cannot do on our own? We have leveraged the resources of each member tourism bureau with 360 private sector businesses and created a $1.4 million marketing campaign. In other words, we are working together to create new initiatives that better promote northern Indiana and increase the economic vitality of our area.

To learn more about the exciting adventures that await you in Northern Indiana visit www.northernindianagetaways.com

Lorelei Weimer is executive director of the Porter County Recreation, Convention and Visitor Commission. The opinion is the writer's.

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