Officials look to landmark birthdays to ignite tourism industry.
by Lesly Bailey
Let the celebrations begin! Officials are looking to milestone anniversaries to further spark the tourism industry, ignite local residents' interest and build momentum for years to come.
The big blowout is the state of Indiana's bicentennial, which includes bison and a torch relay, while the state and national park systems are celebrating 100 years and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore hits its 50th birthday.
Mark Newman, executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, says adding up all of the anniversaries in one year equals one special opportunity.
“It's unique because it creates unprecedented momentum that I have not seen–at least in my lifetime–where you have this confluence of converging events occurring that shines a bright spotlight on the state of Indiana,” he says. “For us not to leverage that, take advantage of that and maximize the potential for economic impact … that would be a real miss on our part.
“We expect the anniversaries to have a very positive impact that extends beyond just the northern region of the state to all of Indiana. From the South to the North, we will be celebrating important anniversaries in addition to the bicentennial.”
Around the state, Newman also cites the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln moving to his boyhood home in Spencer County, 70 years of Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus and the 30th anniversary of the movie “Hoosiers.”
“I could go on and on about the things we are celebrating in 2016, and we are tying it up in a bow with the state's bicentennial,” he says. “It's a great celebratory season for us.”
Newman expects the anniversaries and associated events to enhance the travel, tourism and hospitality industry based on past projections. The latest available data from 2014 shows Indiana welcomed 74 million visitors who infused nearly $11 billion directly and indirectly into the supply chain that serves the hospitality industry.
“If you look at that alone, it's a pretty significant contribution to the state's economy. More compelling is the fact that each of the years doing this economic impact research– including 2012 when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl–we continued to exceed those numbers year after year. Projections indicate we are on consistent and steady growth.
“We have nothing but optimism for what 2016 will mean.”
Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, says events related to the anniversaries can help keep visitors here longer.
“We know it's going to potentially extend the stay of people coming and that's a critical component. That's always the goal … the longer visitors stay, the more money they put into the community.
“If they stay longer, they are more apt to stay overnight and add a hotel. When they eat at a restaurant, that puts them out into the community and they are exposed to the community and shops. The longer visitors stay, the more they find to do. The more they do, the more money they are spending … it has a domino effect.”
“It's an easy connection to make if you get more visitors; all associated businesses that supply goods and services should see an uptick in volume and that is very important to us and the National Park Service–to provide a positive economic impact to the gateway community,” adds Paul Labovitz, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore superintendent and acting superintendent at Pullman National Monument.
Another hallmark of the anniversary celebrations is the ability to educate visitors and residents.
“What we find is the opportunity to shine the spotlight on different agencies. The state park allowed guests in for 10 cents to get people jazzed up,” Weimer says. “We can educate you about the system and get people engaged. Those who have never been to a state park before now realize it's awesome.
“These soft economic impacts are difficult to measure when you know you are having an impact on the quality of life and shining the spotlight on agencies that maybe have been taken for granted or not really recognized before.”
The anniversaries are prompting tourism officials to find big and small creative ways to engage community members.
With the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay, it is connecting tourism efforts as well as Hoosiers statewide. For five weeks in September and October, the event will hit all 92 counties through a 3,200-mile journey.
“Some of that was done to create a massive road trip opportunity to encourage Hoosiers and folks outside the state to visit Indiana communities that they have not visited before,” Newman says. “It will go through 260 different towns with special events and celebrations. There will be reasons to go to Corydon, South Bend, Dale and Goshen because of what those communities are doing to celebrate the torch coming.”
Indiana Dunes Tourism, marking its own 30-year birthday, is featuring Northwest region spots in its Take a Closer Look Scavenger Hunt. Each month, a close-up photograph of a special location is released with clues to help with the guessing process.
“At 30 years, we are the young guns. We are using the scavenger hunt as a fun way to communicate the different things that are going on from the state bicentennial to Porter County Museum's 100-year history,” Weimer says. “We can highlight fun facts and educate about all of the anniversaries going on.”
This sense of collaboration is also bringing bison to the state as part of Indiana's 200th birthday. The Indiana Association of United Ways' Bison-tennial Public Art initiative features life-size fiberglass bison. Artists, including Opportunity Enterprises' Amazing Artists team, decorated the bison.
With about 128 in the state, Porter County's eight-member group is tied for the biggest herd with Noble County, says Anicia Kosky, director of community impact for the United Way of Porter County.
“It's a great way to bring the community together to celebrate Indiana's rich history and diversity. It brings us together to celebrate then, now and in the future,” Kosky says.
Marking the milestone birthdays is bringing new efforts to change the tourism landscape not just today but also tomorrow.
Kosky says they are creating a bison trail where visitors or residents can meet herd members at their various Porter County locations, including Task Force Tips' museum. Other sponsors include Valparaiso Community Schools, Pines Village Retirement Communities, Broken Wagon Bison Farm, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Prompt Ambulance, Portage Township Schools and Indiana Dunes Tourism.
“We are seeing the trail as the longevity product development piece for tourism,” she says. “As permanent fixtures in the community, that's the legacy part.”
Labovitz says the combination of the 50th year of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and 100 years for the National Park Service paves the way for beach events and beyond.
“We have tons of things going on and campaigns that will hopefully add to the visibility of the National Park Service and the Dunes. We hope to get national attention via Find Your Park campaign and Every Kid in a Park campaign,” Labovitz says. “The anniversaries give us an excuse to try and convince people we are more than just a beach park for a summer visit.
“We had our second annual birding festival this year. We hope to develop more reasons for people to come here in early spring and late fall and winter. There's more to the Dunes than just the beach.”
Lessons in history continue to surface with the special birthdays as well.
“The centennial of the National Park Service is also the centennial of the efforts to create the Indiana Dunes,” Labovitz says. “The effort to recognize and protect the sand dunes started back in the early 1900s. I really enjoy the fact that we have this wonderful well-preserved natural resource side by side with the heaviest industry in the country. It demonstrates the compatibility–not without problems–that they have evolved side by side for a century. We are lucky to reap the benefits of that.
“We take very seriously our role as caretakers of this natural and cultural property and as a very important economic resource.”
Amping up the awareness factor for locals through the anniversaries and special events can also spur tourism.
“From a resident's standpoint, we want to get them jazzed up about what we have in the area. Residents don't always know all of the great things we have,” Weimer says. “They should be our destination cheerleaders when friends and relatives come to visit.
“We want them to be excited to showcase what we have in our county … that's another aspect of the campaigns.”
By taking the time to showcase the past through these landmark birthdays, tourism officials are looking toward a stronger future.
“There is a sense of Hoosier pride, heritage and history. The bicentennial showcases the crucial role the state of Indiana played in the Western expansion. If we were to not lend proper attention to these special events and important points in history, we might forget them and that is not something, as Hoosiers, we want to do,” Newman says. “As we celebrate our past, we look to the future with optimism and the bicentennial is a convergence for both of these points.
“Our state is on a very good path. We are better in the future from what we learned in the past and the bicentennial gives us an opportunity to celebrate that.”
* For more information on Northwest region anniversary events, visit www.indianadunes.com/2016-anniversary.
* For more information on the state's bicentennial celebrations, visit www.visitindiana.com.
* For more information on the bison project, visit www.iauw.org/bison.