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Celebrating NWI's tourism, travel industry

Bill Geist, of DMOproZ, offered his 27-year perspective about destination marketing to Wednesday’s National Travel & Tourism Week luncheon at the Indiana Welcome Center. 

HAMMOND — Tourism “is one of the greatest industries on the planet” yet is “an invisible industry that’s all around us.”

Bill Geist, of DMOproZ, brought this message and his 27-year perspective about destination marketing to Wednesday’s National Travel & Tourism Week luncheon at the Indiana Welcome Center.

More than 100 elected leaders and business people from throughout Northwest Indiana attended the celebration, which featured “A Taste of the South Shore” with local vendors serving food sourced from area farms.

Speros Batistatos, president/CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau he headed in 1995 was Geist’s first client. Since then, Geist has provided services to more than 180 destination marketing organizations.

Although some belittle tourism as “Mac jobs with low wages,” Geist said there’s no other industry where employees can move into management faster. "Mac" jobs are traditional fast food jobs that pay the minimum wage.

“Tourism is more than heads in beds. It’s about getting people here,” he said. “Tourism is the first date. Fifty percent of site selection (for a convention or event) is inspired by a visit,” Geist said.

Tourism equates to jobs and taxes, Geist said, adding that property taxes are based on the value of the land.

“If occupancy goes up, the land value goes up and more property taxes can be collected. If occupancy goes down, the land isn’t as valuable,” he said.

Tourism also breaks down walls between people and cultures as more travelers learn about life away from their own homes, Geist said.

In addition, tourism is economic development, Geist said, citing research that showed destination marketing such as the “Pure Michigan” TV ads deal more with quality of life. Those viewing that kind of advertising increase their opinion about an area as a place to visit, to live and set up a business between 10 and 15 percent, he said.

As talks continue about establishing a convention center in Northwest Indiana, Geist said such a center needs to be in close proximity to hotels and places where guests can walk for food and entertainment.

“The opportunity is here for you,” he said. “You are standing at an amazing place.”

During his presentation, Batistatos saluted the Northwest Indiana delegation's contribution to the 2017 Indiana legislative session for their “cathedral thinking.”

“Cathedral thinking is a lot of things. It’s something that is for the future, that we can start something that we won’t live to see completed. It’s long-term projects that span generations, that we can hand off to the future,” Batistatos said.

“We will spend for the future and will live in a better Northwest Indiana than we have today.”