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Hendricks County launches tourism campaign

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Six months into a $750,000 plan to increase Hendricks County’s profile as a tourist destination, officials say revenue from group travel has more than doubled and hotel occupancy is up almost 3 percentage points—and that’s before an end-of-the-year push to get travelers to “Spend the Holidays in Hendricks County.”

The Hendricks County Convention & Visitors Bureau on Tuesday launched its first-ever holiday tourism campaign, a $55,000 effort complete with a spokeswoman named Holly Hendricks who will make appearances at community events.

“Our primary goal is to increase the economic impact of tourism and awareness of Hendricks County,” said Jaime Bohler Smith, associate director of the CVB. “We’ve got great attractions here.”

As IBJ reported in April, the marketing initiative has focused on persuading travelers to spend an extra night in the county after a day watching drag races at O’Reilly Raceway Park or visiting relatives—two of the top reasons people visit Hendricks County.

The CVB has doubled its investment in the Tourism Enhancement and Development Fund, which supports new and improved attractions, and developed the Rural Routes to Main Street Cultural Trail, among other activities, Smith said.

At the end of September, estimated visitor spending from group travel for 2010 was nearly $250,000—more than twice as much as at the same time last year, she said. Year-to-date hotel occupancy was 57.5 percent, up from 54.6 in the first nine months of 2009.

The holiday campaign is a continuation of those marketing efforts. Among the highlights: a 10-stop, high-tech “Cookie Trail.” At each participating business along the trail, visitors will be able to sample a different cookie recipe and download the recipe to their smart phones. (For the slightly less technologically advanced, recipes also will be available online.)

The recipes come from local restaurants, businesses and individuals—including four submitted via a Facebook contest.

Hendricks County tourism officials are promoting the effort in newspaper and radio ads, online advertising and an electronic billboard along Interstate 70 near the Indianapolis International Airport.

The new airport terminal hasn’t been quite the boon officials had hoped.

Traffic from passengers boarding and leaving planes at Indianapolis International dropped 8 percent last year, according to the Indianapolis Airport Authority. The airport closed the top floor of its new parking garage because it was underused, and now is looking for ways to boost non-passenger revenue.

Average daily rates at Hendricks County hotels dropped last year. The rate, which is total hotel revenue divided by the number of rooms, fell 6 percent, from $80.90 to $76.07.

For a smaller market, Hendricks County has a relatively high hotel tax—8 percent. Most goes to CVB coffers to be spent on marketing. The agency’s overall operating budget, including marketing, is $1.8 million this year.

Smith said the CVB expects to spend its entire 2010 marketing budget.

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