News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 22, 2013

GUEST EDITORIAL: Shrinking funds limit Indiana tourism’s potential

The Tribune, Seymour
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---- — Tourism is not exactly the first category that comes to mind when discussing the most important industries in Indiana, particularly when the list of attractions is put alongside those in such neighboring states as Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan.

Nevertheless, the hospitality and visitor trade does play a pretty significant role in the economy of Indiana. More than 257,000 jobs in the state are related to hospitality and tourism, producing more than $6.74 billion in annual wages.

Those numbers alone should suffice to further exploit the state’s potential, but Indiana officials appear to be drawing purse strings tighter on budgets that might be used to promote areas that could be of interest not only to people from other states but Hoosiers themselves.

Mark Newman, Indiana’s new tourism director, alluded to this cost-cutting when discussing how much money is dedicated to promotion and development at the state level. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the office of tourism development has seen its budget shrink from $3.9 million in 2009 to less than $2 million today.

To put that number into perspective, consider that neighboring Michigan shells out $27.4 million on its iconic Pure Michigan campaign, and Illinois more than doubles that outlay.

Admittedly, some past efforts at promoting Hoosier tourism opportunities have left something to be desired.

One only has to think back to the Wander Indiana program of several years past to understand why budget-conscious legislators might be leery of spending much on ad campaigns.

Nevertheless, there are a number of tourism pockets in Indiana that could be attractive to visitors from outside the state.

Our neighbors to the north, Columbus, should serve as an example of how effective promotion can result in significant earnings. Before the opening of the Miller House to visitors two years ago, the Indianapolis Museum of Art launched an aggressive public relations campaign in various national media outlets.

That, coupled with national television exposure through the CBS “Sunday Morning” program, resulted in a flood of reservations not only for tours of the home of the famed Columbus philanthropist but for the architectural tours offered by the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

Here at home, area businesses, including Larrison’s Diner in downtown Seymour, report customers stopping by to check out the local haunts of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp. Our region also attracts lovers of the outdoors with the Hoosier National Forest, Jackson-Washington State Forest and the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.

The Indiana General Assembly did offer individual communities the opportunity to raise their own tourism funds through an innkeeper tax, and that has certainly been critical to the work of Jackson County tourism.

However, many counties either did not avail themselves of the opportunity or had insufficient resources to benefit from such an effort.

Brown County, for instance, has had a long tradition of being a tourist mecca, but that reputation can dim as we pass from one generation to another. There must be a constant reminder of the assets that exist within the state.

The less than $2 million that is currently spent on the tourism development office doesn’t leave a lot of opportunity for self-promotion.

— The Tribune, Seymour