Not just a flyover: Tourism continues to grow in state and county

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From food and music festivals to unique shops and restaurants to high-end golf courses and sports meccas, out-of-state travelers are finding more reasons to visit Indiana. Hamilton County especially is reaping the benefit of the state’s tourism growth, while simultaneously strategizing its own ways to attract guests.

FINANCIAL GAINS

An Economic Impact of Tourism study done by Rockport Analytics shows 80 million people visited Indiana destinations in 2017. The figure resulted in $12.7 billion of visitor spending. Out of every dollar spent on tourism, 72 cents stays in Indiana.

In Hamilton County, visitors added more than $820 million to the local economy, an 11.1 percent increase from 2016. Brenda Myers, president and CEO of Visit Hamilton County, said new and expanded hotels have been a major contributor to overall tourism growth.

“There are more opportunities and places for people to stay,” Myers said. “Hotels are not the biggest expenditure that a person makes on trips.”

The tourism impact study found visitor spending was mostly on food, beverages and retail. In addition, tourism supported 11,553 Indiana jobs, including those at hotels, restaurants and attractions.

A LAYERED MARKET

According to Myers, Visit Hamilton County uses data reports to track hotel room sales and conducts advertising effectiveness studies twice annually. She said business travel, leisure and youth sports are major drivers for Hamilton County visitors. Top of mind for visitors are Conner Prairie, Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts, Grand Park and the Monon Center. Art and music festivals, marathons, bike races and other unique events also are drawing visitors.

However, the variety that the county offers also can be found in just one city – Noblesville. Founded in the early 1800s, its pride and joy is its downtown square, which has had the same façades for nearly two centuries.

Less than 10 miles up Ind. 37, more than 750 acres of native Indiana has been preserved at Strawtown Koteewi park, which – in addition to its natural history center that educates on the area’s archaeology – which offers miles of trails for horseback riding in addition to other activities such as fish, canoeing, archery, snow tubing, climbing and ziplining“treetop trails.”

But overall, Myers said the county sees differing types of visitors depending on the day of the week. When Indianapolis hotel rooms are booked during a convention, northside hotels and restaurants accommodate the overflow. On the weekends, leisure travelers and the families of traveling sports players are more likely to be in town at various sports facilities, hiking or biking trails that connect cities and neighborhoods, or eating at a downtown restaurant.

“The thing that’s so great about the Hamilton County market is we are so layered in our types of visitors,” Myers said. “It helps us be more resilient.”

SMART ADVERTISING

Myers said Visit Hamilton County believes in a combination of web-based marketing and traditional advertising like print and radio.

“When you look at the complexity of the market, it requires different channels of communication, different messages across multiple platforms,” Myers said. “What we’re doing is working, and that’s exciting.”

A Visit Hamilton County marketing campaign portraying the county as a weekend getaway destination earned the Indiana Tourism Association’s Best Leisure Marketing Campaign honor at a state tourism conference earlier this month.

Moreover, a spring and fall campaign that targeted the Chicago market generated $62 million in visitor spending in the county.

Myers said her staff works hard to stay on top of the latest digital campaigns. When Google launched Google Travel, the team decided to embrace it instead of thinking of it as a competitor. They spent time uploading Hamilton County information, focusing on what they wanted outsiders to see first. The result is a visually appealing and comprehensive list of the county’s attractions that pop up on a Google search.

“That’s just the kind of thing that my team amazes me about all the time,” Myers said. “They figure out how to position us in the market. That has really returned (results) for us.”

Visit Hamilton County has staff members available to teach business owners how to optimize their online visibility.

“It really helps us if everybody else is doing well, too,” Myers said.

The organization decided 15 years ago to invest in “key product,” or attractions and amenities throughout the county.

“Grand Park is one of the biggest things we invested in. We’ve also helped Connor Prairie,” Myers said. “It’s really rewarding and exciting. Sometimes, these things take a while to return, but when they do, it’s so much fun.”

BY THE NUMBERS

  • Of the $820.1 million in direct tourism spending in the market, 34 percent was spent on food and beverage, 32 percent on retail, 16 percent on recreation and entertainment and 12 percent on lodging.
  • Out of every visitor dollar spent, approximately 72 cents stays in Indiana.
  • Tourism generated $70 million in total federal taxes and $98.6 million in total state and local taxes. Local taxes included $26.6 million in local property taxes.
  • Overall, local taxes generated by tourism positively impact $779 per household in the county on average.
  • Tourism spending increasesd 11.1 percent in 2017 from the year prior.
  • Tourism supported 11,553 jobs, including those at hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Source: Rockport Analytics, Visit Hamilton County

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