GUEST COMMENTARY: Unified regional voice will propel travel, tourism

2012-02-19T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Unified regional voice will propel travel, tourismBy Speros Batistatos
February 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Indiana's South Shore, the area between Chicago and New Buffalo, offers attractions, beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline, restaurants and thousands of hotel rooms for travelers. More than $247 million in wages (in the Lake County alone) are directly dependent on the hospitality industry, an industry that requires a uniform voice of the South Shore to thrive.

Strides have been taken to regionalize projects/organizations and unify the voice of Northwest Indiana. Organizations, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, function without barriers. These organizations have a "greater" vision that reaches further than the cities, towns or counties in which they sit.

However, it takes more than a plan to shape the future and improve the quality of life in the region. It takes visionary minds and strong leaders to support regional initiatives. We can no longer work separately, but rather in unison. It takes the voices of advocates to step forward and approach the topics that matter most to our community.

We can no longer accept small dreams to help change the future of the South Shore. We can use the Marquette Plan, the Wolf Lake Pavilion and the Whiting Lakefront Park revitalization as models and visions to help bring different sectors of industry, business and education together. Upgrades to areas such as these allow us to market the South Shore to organizations such as the National Softball Association, which in July will bring 10,000 visitors to our area.

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority continues to be the only advocate for initiatives that strengthen this four-county region as a tourist destination. In any given year, Northwest Indiana hosts the same number of visitors as Indianapolis.

During the 2012 legislative session, we continue to protect the lifeblood of the hospitality industry, its employees, through supporting House Bill 1149, a proposal attempting to make Indiana smoke-free.

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority also supports legislation which would "save Indiana summers." This bill focuses on unifying the school start date for Indiana schools, bringing students back to the classroom the fourth Monday of August. The economic impact of pushing back the school start date is more than that of the Super Bowl, and has no cost for the state to implement.

It is through proactive legislative action and a unified regional voice that the travel and tourism industry will remain a strong economic driver in Lake, Porter, Newton and LaPorte counties. Legislation that has positive impact on the hospitality industry provides an increased number of jobs and a more diverse economy, which will propel our community toward a more prosperous future.

Speros Batistatos is president and 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.

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