Tourism agencies are increasingly turning to social media to connect visitors with all that Lake and Porter counties have to offer.
South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority used social media to poll visitors to the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond on their choice of a new window in the center's "A Christmas Story" Comes Home exhibit, said Speros Batistatos, president and CEO.
Responders resoundingly selected a scene where Ralphie, the 1982 movie's main character, saves his family from burglars using his Red Ryder BB gun.
"That came from Facebook," Batistatos said. "Our digital team is doing an exceptional job engaging our customers."
A video launched in January on the Indiana Dunes Tourism website has created interest, said Lorelei Weimer, executive director.
The video artfully depicts the thick layer of shelf ice formed this year in one of the region's coldest and snowiest winters in decades.
"It's our highest viewed video," in the Video 101 series launched on the agency website, Weimer said.
Response to the video has been "unbelievable," Weimer said, drawing visitors to the Indiana Dunes State Park to see the ice shelf for themselves.
The state park and adjoining Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are the main destination for drivers in the area, Weimer said, attracting nearly 3 million visitors a year.
The agency also directs visitors to places of interest just outside the Lake Michigan shoreline.
"Shake off the sand and come into our communities," Weimer said.
A study by Kentucky based Certec Inc., which collects data on the tourism industry, said tourism and travel in Porter County contributed nearly $348 million to the county's economy in 2011, up from $311.5 million in 2009.
"Where it really benefits us is to have them visit our attractions, shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants," Weimer said. "It's helping those businesses increase their bottom lines."
The tourism and travel industry infused the Lake County economy with $1.62 billion in 2010, according to a study by the same company, Certec Inc.
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority's recent launch of an interactive map showcasing local breweries is one of many ways the agency is working to build tourism's economic impact on the region.
Nine local breweries are showcased on the CVA website, with people able to plan their own brewery tour by clicking on the map. The number of trail listings will expand as more craft brewers come to the region, the CVA's Batistatos said.
The website also maps numerous other local attractions, from restaurants and hotels to bike trails. In the works are plans to map locations for local works of outdoor art and of bird migration spots, Batistatos said.
Visits to the website are increasing, Batistatos said.
"We're seeing in some instances thousands of percent increase in our mobile site," he said.
Details on the South Shore Brewery Trail are available at www.southshorecva.com/restaurants/breweries/brewery-trail/.
The Shelf Ice in Indiana Dunes Country video, and other information about Indiana Dunes Tourism, is available at www.indianadunes.com.