Chesterton Tribune

Porter County tourism office lays out strategy for next three years

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County government tourism office released its 2012-2014 strategic and business plan with a focus on using technology to promote niche markets and attractions in Porter County.

Staff announced to the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission on Tuesday that a “mobile version” of the “Indiana Dunes Tourism” (IDT) website is accessible. Under the direction of Niche Market Director Angela Pasyk, the group is also producing a pair of videos aimed at encouraging car club enthusiasts to visit the Indiana Dunes Country.

As its strategic goals, the plan lists increasing visitor conversion and length of stay, endorsing development, advocating the value of tourism to all county communities and functioning as a fiscally responsible and accountable organization.

IDT Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said travel expenditures are expected to increase by 2.1 percent in 2012, not quite the jump seen in 2011 when expenditures grew by 7.5 percent over 2010’s figures.

The biggest financial factors for the year, according to the plan, will be the price of air travel, a high level of credit card and personal debt, rising cost of health care and the price of fuel which some authorities say will reach record highs of close to $5 a gallon.

“That’s a real big concern,” Weimer said, indicating it may impact the number of visitors coming to the Dunes this summer.

But, studies show many people in the United States, 127 million of them, plan to travel this year while 102 million are either undecided or plan not to. Beach trips are the top destination picks for 2012 and 79 percent of leisure travelers will spend at least $3,000 this year.

IDT’s goal and target markets include adventure/recreation traveler, eco-tourists, beach/aquatic sports enthusiasts, cultural heritage/event visitors and travel media.

Promotions Director Ken Kosky said he was able to meet with a travel writer from USA Today at a media luncheon and the writer penned an article on the Chesterton and Valparaiso areas for the Chicago City Guide sections in an edition of USA Today, which Kosky estimates gave the tourism bureau a value of more than $10,000 in free promotions.

Last week, IDT met with filmmakers documenting the historic roads in Indiana. The roads featured are Lakefront Drive (U.S. 12) along the Dunes and the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) in Valparaiso. The film will be produced in IMAX format. Kosky said the film may be shown later this year at the IMAX theater in Portage or on local PBS stations.

Visitor Center Upgrades

The Indiana Dunes Visitor Center will add a wider projector screen and wireless connections for laptops inside its theater. New A/V equipment will replace outdated equipment in both the theater and the conference room for a price of about $7,000.

IDT Operations Director Patti Boyer said two 15-minute movies will loop continuously in the theater room which can be halted by a concierge or ranger at the push of a button if they wish to use the room for another activity.

Weimer said IDT will need to seek a new company since the company which installed the equipment five years ago has since gone out of business. More upgrades may needed in future because technology is changing constantly.

“We’re outfitting everything as technology begins to progress,” Weimer said.

Although under no legal obligation, Board President Mitch Peters recommended a Request for Proposals be put out for the equipment upgrade project.

The programming and equipment work should take two to three weeks, Boyer said.

The center’s outdoor landscaping will also see some changes. The original landscaper, Jim Perkins, recently passed away. Perkins had completed Phase II of the project and a new landscape architect is being sought for the final phase.

Board member John Johnson asked IDT staff to consider letting one of the university groups carry out the project as class credit for students studying landscape design. The arrangement would likely be a money saving venture for the tourism bureau, Johnson said.

$2,000 Grant for Porter Fireworks

The board unanimously approved two additional grant requests from events that did not realize they were still eligible to receive tourism dollars.

The tourism bureau in 2010 altered its grant policies to help new events find promotion dollars. An organization can receive a 50 percent matching grant for a limit of three years with maximum amounts up to $3,000 for the first year, $2,500 the second year and $1,500 for a third year.

Existing events are still eligible as long as they haven’t exhausted their limit.

The board awarded $2,000 to Porter’s Lakefront Fireworks show. The other grant, $1,500, went to the Valparaiso Kiwanis Hot-Air Balloon Show.

 

 Posted 2/15/2012