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Even tourism director surprised by growth of county’s tourist appeal

January 17th, 2017

By Cindy Klepper | Huntington County TAB

Tourism in Huntington County is growing by leaps and bounds.

So many leaps and bounds, in fact, that the director of the Huntington County Visitor and Convention Bureau asked the researchers if their figures were right.

“They said, ‘We double checked everything,’” Tina Bobilya says.

“The increases are across the board,” Bobilya said as she presented the Rockport Analytics study, 2015 Economic Impact of Tourism in Huntington County, to the Huntington County commissioners on Monday, Jan. 9.

Tourism across Indiana is up 8 percent, she said, while Huntington County tourism is up 21 percent.

Rockport Analytics studied the impact of tourists — defined as anyone who travels more than 50 miles to get to Huntington County, or who spends the night in Huntington County —  on revenue and jobs in the county. The research company compiles the information for the state tourism agency, then breaks out county-by-county information for counties that want that data. The HCVB received its first and only report in 2013; the current report compiles information from 2015.

In 2013, Bobilya says, tourism generated $18 million in spending in Huntington County. For 2015, she says, that figure is $21.9 million. Sixty-nine cents of every dollar a tourist spends in Huntington County stays in Huntington County, she says.

And tourism has generated 57 new jobs since 2013, she says, for a total of 396 tourism-related jobs in the county.

“Tourism is the highest growing industry in Huntington County by jobs,” she says.

Bobilya says she attributes the increases to “a lot of things that are happening at once,” including regional advertising that makes heavy use of social media.

Major tourist draws in Huntington County are destinations, Salamonie Lake, Zip Timber Lake and Huntington University; events, the Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival, Huntington Heritage Days and Rolling into Roanoke; and food and beverage, Two-EE’s Winery, Nick’s Kichen, Antiqology and Joseph Decuis.

The Rockport Analytics Report showed double digit growth in all areas of tourism — 21.7 percent in lodging, 27 percent in food and beverages, 20.4 percent in shopping and retail, 25.3 percent in entertainment and recreation and 16 percent in transportation.

“Food and beverage is by far what people are spending their money on,” she says.

While Salamonie Lake attracts a high number of visitors, it doesn’t always generate revenue.

“They can come out and go to the reservoir and not really spend any money,” she says.

Some of those visitors, though, come to the area with a double mission, Commissioner President Tom Wall says.

“People are coming to our area for vacation and also looking for a job,” he says.

Tourism has a role in economic development, he says, by promoting the area’s quality of life as part of attracting new residents.

Wall requested that Bobilya add a link to the HCVB website for a page on the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership site, which lists all jobs and internships available in each county of the partnership.