Tourism funnels more than $43 million into Wabash County

February 19th, 2016

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Tourism funnels more than $43 million into Wabash County

Makenzie Holland

For the second time, Wabash County has been the subject of a study aimed to determine the impact of tourism in the area.

The recently released Tourism Economic Impact Analysis for Wabash County revealed a long list of statistics regarding the economic impact of tourism in the county in 2014, noting that tourism carries the title of “fifth-largest industry in Wabash County” by jobs, according to Christine Flohr, executive director of tourism for the Wabash County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“Our county has relied for so many years on industrial economic impact,” she said. “So what we’re seeing is, as we continue to focus on quality of place and quality of life initiatives, the byproduct of that is a county that people want to come and visit and enjoy and, hopefully, at some point want to relocate and live here or open a business here.”

Flohr said comprehensive studies such as the tourism analysis, which was conducted by Rockport Analytics through a co-op program organized by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, are generally “very expensive.” However, through the bureau’s partnership with the Economic Development Group of Wabash County (EDG) and the co-op program, Wabash County was able to participate in the program along with 17 other counties in the state.

The study began in 2015 and utilized data collected from the 2014 calendar year to determine tourism’s impact in the county for that year, according to a bureau press release. A previous study conducted in the area took a look at tourism in 2013.

For 2014, Flohr said, the county saw “an increase across the board” in dollars spent in the community by tourists. In 2014, tourists spent a total of $43.1 million, up 2.9 percent from 2013.

“Knowing that visitor spending was over $43 million, that’s a huge chunk of change to see being invested back into our county as a whole,” Flohr said.

Broken down, county visitors spent a total of $3.7 million on lodging, $11.9 million on food and beverages, $5 million on entertainment and recreation and $10 million on transportation.

The category that saw the most amount of visitor spending was retail, coming in at $12.5 million, per the report.

“We’re seeing an overall consistent growth and that’s good,” Flohr said. “That means we’re not just promoting one target market … seeing standard growth in each of those genres is important and that’s good. That means we’re being effective.”

For every dollar spent by a tourist in Wabash County in 2014, $0.68 of that dollar stayed local, meaning it contributed directly to the gross county product, the release noted.

Other statistics generated by the study showed that visitor spending in the county supported 970 jobs, 864 of which were in the tourism sector and $16.5 million in labor income.

2014 tourism activity in the county affected taxes as well, generating more than $70,000 in Indiana corporate taxes, $333,000 in Indiana personal income tax and nearly $1.9 million in local property taxes, the release said.

On the federal level, tourism generated $3.9 million in corporate and personal income taxes, excise taxes and social security collections, the release added. State and local taxes derived from tourism totaled $5 million.

“We’ve known anecdotally for quite some time that tourism was a large economic driver in Wabash County,” EDG President and CEO Keith Gillenwater said in the release. “We were happy to partner with Visit Wabash County and the state of Indiana to measure this important industry and confirm what we’ve known all along – tourism has a huge and growing impact on our community.”

Flohr said though they use a study such as this as a sort of “report card” to see how they’re doing and compare their statistics to other communities, the study also plays another key role.

“When you think about, ‘Why do we support the tourism office and initiatives,’ it’s important for stakeholders and residents to realize how this affects their quality of life and why,” she said.

Through this study, Flohr continued, “you’re taking the tourism industry and making it relevant and important to the day-to-day person who loves this county and loves where they live.”

“That’s what I really like about this report,” she said. “We can use it and put it into metrics as a report card of how well we’re doing, We can gauge the effectiveness of our work. But for the residents that live here, it’s important for me to convey that the work that we’re doing is truly making a difference in day-to-day lives. It’s making a difference in the quality of place Wabash has to offer and that’s important to me.”

She said due to tourism, Wabash County residents save $396 annually in taxes they would have to pay to maintain current state and local tax levels if the industry did not exist.

“It is important for key decision-makers and residents to understand the significant impact that tourism has and how it directly affects each of us in such a positive way,” Flohr said in the release.

Flohr added that she hopes to continue the studies in the future and in the meantime, after reading the 2014 study, hopes to work on having more overnight stays in Wabash and encouraging visitors to keep coming back.

“I’d like to get guests to stay in our community longer,” she said. “That’s an area that our office is always looking at, to ensure that we’re not selling the first experience to visitors, we’re selling the second and the third experience to visitors.”