Local office holders, regional business leaders, and honored guests gathered at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond Wednesday afternoon for the Annual Tourism Luncheon. Sponsored by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority (SSCVA), the event featured a smorgasbord of Northwest Indiana culinary delights followed by a presentation from George Zimmermann, chairman of the marketing and research firm Longwoods International USA, Inc. Zimmermann is best known for his work on the nationally successful Travel Michigan tourism campaign, as Vice President of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation from October 2001 to April 2014.
“I really like doing presentations like this for tourism people around the country,” Zimmermann said. “We’re all in the same business, and that is finding ways to attract more visitors, getting them to spend more money at our destinations, so that more people will have jobs and the city and the state are getting more money.”
“It’s kind of in that spirit of sharing that I do these things,” he said.
During his keynote address, Zimmermann highlighted the extended economic impact tourism marketing has on the community. A study co-sponsored by his office in Michigan showed that tourism campaigns and resulting visits significantly increase new business development, educational recruitment, and real estate values.
He hopes the information he presented will help communities recognize tourism marketing’s role as a regional brand manager and encourage greater investments in the resource.
“It’s not only to attract visitors,” Zimmermann said. “In the end, it’s also to attract workers, businesses.”
Misty Weisensteiner, Director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, attended Wednesday’s luncheon and agreed strongly with Zimmermann’s reframing of tourism marketing as destination brand management.
“We need that,” Weisensteiner said. “We need those cheerleaders and storytellers in the communities so that whenever visitors go into it, they see the passion that the local people have and they can share in the story.”
She hopes events like the SSCVA’s Annual Tourism Luncheon will raise public awareness of tourism marketing’s valuable contributions, and help increase state and private funding allocations.
Weisensteiner spoke highly of the creative promotional work and partnership building Speros Batistatos, President and CEO of the SSCVA, has done to bring more visitors into the South Shore region. The successful creation of the new Indiana Dunes National Park stood out to her in particular.
“We are so ecstatic and very proud,” Weisensteiner said of the project.
To close the afternoon, the SSCVA featured a 45-second video for National Tourism Week celebrating NW Indiana tourism, and announced an upcoming exhibit opening May 23 that celebrates the new national park.