Jasper County, South Shore tourism group forge partnership
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent February 20, 2014 11:50PM
Updated: March 24, 2014 6:22AM
HAMMOND — A partnership for tourism services between the Jasper County Tourism Commission and the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority is one step closer to reality.
The SSCVA board of directors Thursday unanimously approved the contract that would allow the bureau to help launch the county’s fledgling tourism efforts for a fee. The Jasper County Economic Development Organization is slated to vote on the deal March 7. If approved, it will go into effect April 1.
Vic DeMeyer, chairman of the board, said the partnership is an example of the concept of regionalism Speros Batistatos, SSCVA president and CEO, has long promoted.
“This is the way of the future. This is what we will continue to do,” DeMeyer said.
Batistatos said he first discussed the possibility of a partnership with Kevin Kelly, president of Jasper County Economic Development Organization, several years ago when they first met at a forum. At the time, the county did not have an innkeepers’ tax and the organization was just beginning to look at tourism as a means for economic development.
Since that time, Kelly said the county enacted a 5 percent innkeeper tax in July 2012 and began collecting that tax in January 2013. He said Batistatos was on the phone with him the day after the tax passed to see how the two entities could team up.
“It makes a lot of sense to outsource to a much bigger neighboring organization,” Kelly said.
The county has 230 hotel rooms and the tax on those rooms generated $142,566 in 2013. Jasper County will pay the SSCVA $2,500 a month for services that will include helping to develop a brand for the county and helping to create the county’s website, which will be a page on the greater SSCVA website.
Kelly said the county will also receive media and public relations assistance from the tourism agency.
“They’re going to teach us how to market the Jasper brand and attract more visitors,” he said.
The county has four main festivals, one in each of its larger cities and towns, the Jasper County Fair and several agri-tourism-based businesses. Kelly said the goal is to have the SSCVA help market the county and then the county will use the remaining tourism dollars it collects to implement the recommendations made by the SSCVA to help grow the various events and get more people to spend the night in a Jasper County hotel.
Kelly said the county could have hired its own tourism employee, but it would have been an entry-level position filled by someone who would have to learn as they go. He said there still will be a learning curve for county officials but at least they will have the SSCVA’s experience and expertise to guide them.
“We’re excited about it,” Kelly said.