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Hope that summer rays bring summer bucks

The beach IndianDunes State Park Chestertis crowded with families. | Sun-Times Medifile

The beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park, in Chesterton, is crowded with families. | Sun-Times Media, file

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Updated: July 10, 2014 6:03AM



Summer tourism is off to a good start but local tourism officials remain cautiously optimistic about the economic boost the season may hold.

Much of the summer tourism season is weather related. Officials like Lorelei Weimer, executive director at Indiana Dunes Tourism, said attendance at Porter County’s biggest attraction, the dunes and the Lake Michigan beaches, depend on how warm it is.

“We had a cold summer last year. We are already off to a good start this year. We had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend,” Weimer said, adding she is hopeful to see a warming trend start soon. “Warmer is better for a beach destination.”

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said several factors play into how the tourism season ultimately will shape up.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed we will have a strong summer,” Batistatos said.

Lower unemployment rates mean people are starting to get back to work.

“Midwesterners have a little more money in their pocket.”

However, there are reasons to remain cautious, he warns.

“From an economic point of view it is an interesting dance.”

So many things can impact how much disposable income people have and how they chose to spend it. Rising prices of food and fuel are a concern for the industry. Rising fuel prices can be a problem or a plus depending on just how much they increase.

Northwest Indiana is a commuter destination. He says 99.9 percent of all visitors come by four wheels. When gasoline prices climb, airline prices also go up. That could translate into more people choosing to drive to a location instead of fly. It could also influence more local people to “staycation” and visit some of the local events and attractions.

Significant increases in fuel prices could impact discretionary spending, which may translate into reduced spending on activities, events and dining.

Signature annual events such as the South Shore Air Show, this year at Fair Oaks Farms in Newton County, and popular festivals such as Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Festival of the Lakes in Hammond and the Lake County Fair in Crown Point are perennial draws.

In Porter County, Weimer said, the festivals sprinkled through the summer season give visitors who come for the beaches a chance to venture out into the communities.

“The dunes are clearly what puts us on the map. That’s really the hook. We call it the destination driver,” she said.

The tourism agency this year has partnered with the Indiana Dunes State Park and Friends of the Indiana Dunes to rebrand Trail Eight in the state park to the “3 Dune Challenge.”

The three tallest dunes in the state are all located on Trail No. 8 and part of Trail No. 4 at the state park, Weimer said. Mounty Baldy comes in at No. 4. The first tallest is Mount Tom, followed by Mount Holden and Mount Jackson. The challenge encourages visitors to tackle the trails on the three dunes, a challenging hike, to receive a decal commemorating their effort. The program officially launches June 12.

“We really want to get locals excited and engaged about the dunes as well as outside visitors,” she said.

After visiting the dunes the bureau is working on getting people to shake off the sand south of the dunes. That program, which includes a coupon book with paid admission to the state park, offers discounts on dining and attractions south of the dunes such as the 49er Drive In, bison farm and a tour of the top 17 restaurants in the county.

Batistatos said the reason the tourism agency exists is to generate business for retailers, hotels, restaurants and attractions in the region.

The SSCVA has been aggressive in recruiting conventions and sporting events over the summer months to create reasons for visitors from around the Midwest to come and spend their dollars at local restaurants and attractions.

“It is big money, that’s why we do it,” he said.

Close to 4,000 attendees are expected at three repeat conventions in June, the Salvation Army, June 6 to 8, with 3,000 attendees; the Fraternal Order of Police State Convention, June 16 to 22, with 300 attendees, and the Crusaders Ministries, June 21 to 29, with 600 attendees. Estimated economic impact for the three events is about $730,000.

New this year is the Hot Rod Power Tour, June 10 and 11. More than 3,000 attendees are expected as hot rods from around the country make their way through Lake County to the Crown Point Fairgrounds where visitors can spend the day checking them at. The event is expected to generate around $250,000 in estimated economic impact.

Amateur sporting events continue to bring people to the region. Leon’s Triathlon marked the first in a long line of summer events including the return of the National Softball Association “B” World Series taking place in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

Multiple fast pitch softball and baseball tournaments are scheduled at the Crown Point Sports Plex throughout the summer, the Ohio Valley State Baseball Tourney, Mudathlon in Valparaiso, Blastcamp Paintball Competition in Hobart, and the Butterfly Table Tennis Tournament in Merrillville.

“I’m excited about a lot of events this summer. We have a great summer on our hands,” Batistatos said.



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