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10/8/2018 10:00:00 AM
OPINION: Scarce tourism money wasted

Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.  His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed on a podcast:

              It seems every Indiana county has a tourism agency. Some are very small, modest efforts working with tiny amounts of money from the private sector. Others are big time, by Hoosier standards. They have local tax money, thanks to local pressure on the state legislature which granted them the power to levy taxes on the customers of hotels, motels, restaurants, bars and cars.

            With big enough budgets, tourism expands from vacationers to visitors for any reason. The biggest prize is a national political convention of big-name big-spenders, lasting five days with contentious TV coverage. To hold these pow-wows of potted plutocrats, palaces must be constructed. Larger, evermore grand facilities must be planned and built by the public sector for the benefit of a city’s reputation and the enrichment of selected patrons.

           Even towns of smaller size lust after conventions of penurious professors or podiatrists. But how do towns with minimal attractions and facilities get their share of consumers’ travel dollars? Tourism, a disease associated with auto ownership, is the answer to the query: “Why don’t we ever go anywhere like the neighbors do?”

         Whereas Monroe County has bedazzling autumnal forests and Indiana University to draw tourists, what about Lawrence County to the immediate south? How can the Joe Palooka Statue in Oolitic compete with Assembly Hall (now renamed for a moneyed patron)? Is driving the Devil’s Backbone going to draw as well as watching underclass (wo)men get drunk at Nik’s?

              From what I can tell, most Hoosier counties turn to the printed brochure. They may have whiz-bang web pages, but the multi-colored, slick-paper brochure survives. An extensive display of these can be found in most local Chamber of Commerce offices. (“I’ll display yours, if you’ll display mine.”)

             It looks as though these pamphlets, even mini-magazines, while intended to attract money from visitors, also serve as a means to display local loyalty. Thus, we find ads by a bank and an auto dealer in the visitor guide for Lawrence County.

            Recently, I stopped at the rest area in northwest White County on northbound I-65. There I picked up a 2018 Indiana Roadway Map and checked out the tourism literature.

            I found the racks filled with attractive, informative promotional brochures from Carroll and Lawrence counties, the Indianapolis Zoo, Marengo Cave, Patoka Lake, Orange County, and a border-to-border invitation to explore Southern Indiana. In addition there were pieces from Goshen’s Old Bag Factory and Shipshewana’s Flea Market.

            None of these is a likely destination for a northbound driver on I-65, about an hour from Lake Michigan.

            Who is responsible for wasting the money of merchants, attractions, and tax payers supporting tourism advertising?

            Is this the state’s Tourism Office at work? I’ve seen their website telling us tourism matters to Indiana. They offer statistics touting the benefits of tourism. Yet, who monitors the distribution of local promotional material?

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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