Even as officials with Indiana Dunes Tourism were preparing their 2018 report on tourism in Porter County, they were getting a glimpse at what next year’s report might bring now that Indiana Dunes National Park has been rechristened.
Social media impressions for the tourism bureau were about 2 million last year, but in the month since the park got an upgrade from being a lakeshore, that hit 708,000.
“Even in the month that we’ve been a national park, we’ve seen a lot of publicity,” said Dustin Ritchea, promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism. “From a marketing perspective, we really want to ride that train and let everyone know how special this natural resource is.”
The tourism bureau released its 2018 report March 14, which showed that tourism produced an economic impact in the county of $476.4 million last year.
In all, direct spending by visitors from outside the county reached $334.2 million, a 7.6 percent increase from the previous year, according to the report, and tourism generated $111.8 million in tax revenue, a 15 percent bump.
Additionally, according to the report, the visitor center saw 93,997 visitors last year from all 50 states and 40 countries
The figures in the 2018 report, Ritchea added, were compiled before the change in the park’s status, which occurred Feb. 15 when U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, put the change in appropriation legislation for the federal budget.
While the park’s name change won’t change much for the park itself, Ritchea said, it changes everything else, including placing the park into the elite group of 61 National Park Service units with that designation, and the only one with that designation in Indiana.
“It puts a feather in our cap,” he said.
Beyond boosting tourism figures for the next report, Ritchea expects the change to have a ripple effect throughout Porter County as local businesses reap the benefits of more visitors who come through the area, and merchants that tie in having a national park with their offerings from a marketing standpoint.
“What we’ve been saying all along is it’s no longer just a bucket list trip but a repeat destination, and it’s really exciting,” he said.
Maura Durham, president of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce, hopes to see more visitors come to the area for an extended stay, particularly long weekends that would bring foot traffic in to local businesses on Mondays, which are typically slow.
She’s seen a trend of new restaurants and retail businesses lately, places that would attract tourists for what they need.
Businesses also have the opportunity to offer products that play off themes from the national park, Durham added.
“I would love to see some of our retailers take on that initiative,” she said.