Tourists rank Indianapolis as the second-most-popular Midwestern destination

December 15, 2008
Fueled by a $740,000 regional advertising campaign, local tourism spending went sky high even as the economy was in a free fall. According to a study commissioned by the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, tourists spent $185.9 million in the local market in 2008, up from $88.9 million in 2007. The figure doesn't include spending on conventions and corporate outings.

ICVA CEO Don Welsh credited an aggressive advertising and marketing plan for the increase. The ICVA this year partnered with eight cultural destinations, including The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Conner Prairie, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Museum of Art, to launch the campaign here and in Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

Several key indicators showed the initiative worked. The number of trips to the city increased from 170,182 in 2007 to 270,847 this year. Spending per trip increased from $577 to $687 and the average length of stay for tourists climbed from 2.3 to 2.7 days.

"These results confirm that our reputation as an affordable destination with multiple attractions and activities continues to grow," Welsh said.

Respondents to the study conducted by Carmel-based Strategic Marketing & Research indicated that Indianapolis was the second-most-popular destination in the Midwest, trailing only Chicago.

Welsh is promising more aggressive marketing in 2009, including a sweeping branding campaign. The branding campaign will be rolled out in specialty convention and tourism publications as well as through trade shows and other tourism industry gatherings. The ICVA is interviewing ad agencies and marketing firms and plans to hire an agency within three weeks to help with the campaign.

"We want to demonstrate all the great new products and amenities this city has to offer," Welsh said.

With new amenities, including the new airport, Lucas Oil Stadium and hotel additions, Welsh said it's time for the marketing plan to step up and match the tourism product the city offers.

"A lot of cities have better marketing and a better brand than the product they have," said Welsh, who left the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau in August to take his post with the ICVA. "In the case of Indianapolis right now, we have a product that is better than the brand positioning."

The initiative to bring in more leisure spending comes as numerous cities — including Indianapolis —  are building or expanding their convention centers, ratcheting up the competition for conventions and other corporate business.

"You're seeing a transition from a seller's market to a buyer's market," said Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas at San Antonio professor and author of several studies on the convention and tourism industry.

John Livengood, president and CEO of the Indiana Hospitality and Lodging Association, thinks ICVA's plan to grow leisure as well as convention business is smart.

"The ICVA has been doing a much better job of promoting leisure travel, which they haven't done traditionally," Livengood said. "As more hotel rooms come online in this city, and especially while the convention center is being built, I think it's a very savvy strategy to diversify the efforts to bring in visitors."

Central Indiana might actually be benefiting from the lean economy, said Rob Hunden, president of Hunden Strategic Partners, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in destination attractions.

"There are a number of people looking for an abundance of activities a relatively short distance from home," Hunden said. "The city's central location and relative affordability puts it in a strong position."

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