The news that the Indiana Dunes became America's 61st national park swept far and wide, making international headlines.
The newly minted Indiana Dunes National Park got press coverage in USA Today, Smithsonian magazine, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, the Hill and CNN. The national park destination news reached an estimated 72 million to 76 million people, generating an estimated $750,000 in free advertising, Indiana Dunes Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said during her State of Tourism address at Riley's Railhouse in Chesterton Thursday.
“To be blunt, Northwest Indiana — specifically Porter County — is ‘Indiana Dunes Country,' and the national park status only elevates our destination further," she said. "Northwest Indiana has a new feather in its cap, and we all have an opportunity to use the Indiana Dunes to increase our economic development."
A month after the news broke, Weimer continues to do frequent media interviews, including with National Public Radio shows and British newspapers. A hope is that the Indiana Dunes gets featured in more travel publications and travel guides this year, now that it's a national park instead of just a national lakeshore.
"It puts us in an elite group," she said. "We're one of just 61 national parks nationwide."
The Indiana Dunes does not get any additional funding, and the change does not affect the Indiana Dunes State Park. But the hope is that the stronger brand will draw more visitors, especially since some travelers try to visit every national park as a bucket-list item.
Porter County is now home to 1,000 tourism-related businesses that provide more than 5,500 jobs, Weimer said. The tourism sector pumps an estimated $476 million into the Porter County economy and the national park designation should only draw even more visitors.
Online interest has spiked.
“To put it into perspective, our total social media impressions during 2018 were around two million, but in the one month since we became a national park, we’re already at 708,000,” Indiana Dunes Tourism Community Engagement Director Kailey Capuano said.
Indiana Dunes Tourism has been looking to capitalize off the designation. It's looking into marketing campaigns in Germany and Japan, has translated its promotional guidebooks into a number of foreign languages, and released the Dunes 101 video series on YouTube. The tourism agency is working with the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians to plan a new Native American Trail that will start at the Indiana Dunes Welcome Center in Chesterton.
“Visitors don't have to go to the East Coast or the West Coast anymore,” Indiana Dunes Promotions Director Dustin Ritchea said. “We have the Third Coast, and it’s in our own backyard."
To learn more about Indiana Dunes Tourism visit www.indianadunes.com.