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Indiana’s effort to promote its attractions is losing ground to better-funded neighbors, but the state’s top tourism official hopes to change that with a new plan to generate revenue and persuade people to explore all the Hoosier state has to offer.
Mark Newman, head of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development since late 2012, says he wants to change how the state promotes its attractions, including developing a new tourism slogan more focused on Indiana’s rural areas. He also hopes to increase the use of social media to promote attractions.
It all takes money, and the tourism office is in short supply. Since 2009, the agency’s budget has fallen from $3.9 million to less than $2 million, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported. The department’s staff has fallen from 12 to four over the last decade, and several marketing publications have been discontinued.
Meanwhile, Michigan spends $27.4 million on its Pure Michigan ad campaign, and Illinois spends more than twice that despite having the nation’s worst credit rating. Kentucky and Ohio have travel budgets two to four times greater than Indiana’s.
Tourism experts acknowledge Indiana has a big hill to climb to catch up.
“I’d say on a scale of one to 10, our brand awareness is a two. I’d hesitate to give it a three,” said Bruce Bryant, president of locally based Promotus Advertising Co., which formerly worked on the state’s tourism account.
Bryant said the budget is so lean that even many Hoosiers aren’t aware of the attractions in their own state.
“We’re losing people from Indiana who are passing over attractions we have right here at home. They’re doing it because they’re being bombarded with those Pure Michigan ads and messages from Ohio and Illinois,” he said.
Denise Miller, Indiana’s tourism director from 1989-1992, now is vice president of Strategic Marketing and Research Inc., a tourism and hospital research firm based in Carmel.
Miller said tourism agencies nationwide are focused primarily on outreach.
“How do you outreach? The most effective method is advertising, and that costs money,” Miller said.
Tourism officials say Indiana has great attractions but no one to tell the story of places like French Lick, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the architecture of Columbus.
“People, potential travelers, often start with the perception of the state,” Hoops said. “You don’t start with the perception of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Yosemite and the Redwoods. You start with your perception of California. It’s the same way here. The Indianapolis brand is tied directly to the Indiana brand.”
Newman, who was hired by Gov. Mitch Daniels and retained by Gov. Mike Pence, has big plans to turn things around.
He wants a $4 million budget — $2 million from tax dollars and another $2 million generated by the tourism office.
He’s enlisting a Pennsylvania company to create a “research platform” that better tells how tourism affects the state’s economy. Another effort includes replacing the “Restart your engines” slogan with one more closely tied to rural areas and launching a fall marketing campaign featuring the new tag line.
Another effort, tested last year at a Noblesville elementary school, involves developing a tourism curriculum for fourth-graders that combines history and tourism.
Newman hopes to bring in enough money through ad sales and other efforts to double his staff and at least double the advertising budget.
Though the office’s budget is expected to rise to $2.3 million, Newman still must win over those who approve his budget, Miller said.
“There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the potential of tourism in Indiana,” she said. “It’s like (lawmakers) don’t believe in the product. This is a state that constantly says it wants to operate more like a business. But they don’t advertise their products.”
Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said Newman will have to prove that a dollar spent means more than a dollar made for the state.
“Most people would agree this department is not a critical function of state government,” said Brown, chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
But even Brown acknowledged that the agency’s budget is a problem.
“You see all those Michigan.org ads and they do make you bristle. We understand that if our tourism department isn’t out there advertising, we’re not out there in the public eye and that can hurt us economically.”
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