The Indiana Tourism Association has a new name, a new executive director and a sharpened direction designed to shake loose funding from the Legislature for hospitality promotion.
The new leader, Carrie Lambert, promises the association will reach out to help a broader array of tourism-related businesses and organizations, ratchet up discussions with state lawmakers, and raise the profile of the industry.
“I feel like it’s a new day for us,” said Lambert, who took over as executive director in January. “We’re bringing a new perspective on tourism in the state. I think we’re really ready for a shift in the way tourism in this state is viewed.”
Even though the ITA has been around since 1980, it’s only had an executive director for a little more than three years.
Lambert, who formerly worked for Conner Prairie Interactive History Park and the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, replaced Vicki Perkins.
“Carrie has re-energized the tourism movement in the state and certainly the activities of [the Indiana Tourism Association],” said Rep. Wes Culver, a Republican whose 49th District includes Amish country in northern Indiana. “Through her efforts with the ITA she has become a key educator and has given this industry a voice.”
Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Brenda Myers thinks Lambert’s talents can transform the state tourism industry.
“Carrie is a smart, smart person,” said Myers, who is an ITA board member. “She’s worked in sales and marketing and understands tourism at the state level. It helps that she knows the state and its attractions like the back of her hand. She’s the type of person who can unite this industry and get us working in the same direction.”
The ITA has a $140,000 budget and 60 members—49 of which are convention and visitors bureaus. Membership dues are on a sliding scale and range from $650 to $3,640. Any industry that isn’t a convention or visitors bureau pays $300 annually.
To raise the industry’s profile, Lambert is counting heavily on squeezing more money from the state—and there’s virtually nowhere to go but up. Last year, the $2.3 million budget of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development was No. 47 in the country.
Lawmakers need to be convinced of the importance of the industry, she said.
In June, the organization shed its Association of Indiana Convention and Visitors Bureaus moniker to better reflect its expanded mission to casinos, hotels, festivals and events, and major attractions like Holiday World in southern Indiana.
She noted that 84 percent of all tourism jobs and 53 percent of all hospitality jobs in Indiana—80,000 in all—are generated by small businesses.
Also in June, she organized a luncheon for more than 40 legislators. She hopes to launch a caucus during the upcoming General Assembly to help leaders better understand the value of the tourism industry and its challenges.
To help them better understand the industry, the ITA in July began producing two 90-second videos with the tag line “I am Indiana tourism” showcasing various attractions and giving statistics on tourism’s financial impact.
The videos, produced by Noblesville-based Deliberate Media at a cost of just under $5,000, are set to be done in September. They will highlight such destinations as Best Chocolate in Town in downtown Indianapolis, Beasley’s Orchard in Danville, and Conner Prairie in Hamilton County, as well as several locations outside the Indianapolis area.
On the heels of releasing the video, Lambert plans to take lawmakers and other leaders to tourism destinations statewide.
“Awareness is one of the things we have not done well in the tourism industry,” she said.
Culver, whose district is also a hub for recreational vehicle manufacturing, said the ITA’s new initiatives “are not only helping underscore what this industry can do in terms of bringing visitor dollars to the state, which helps state businesses, but also what they do to generate a lot of tax dollars.”
Lambert’s idea of starting a tourism caucus “is being received very well” by lawmakers, Culver said.
“[State lawmakers] are starting to realize that this isn’t just about boosting the tourism industry, but helping make Indiana a more desirable place to live, which draws in more businesses of all kinds,” he added.
Given ITA’s limited budget, Lambert wants to be careful not to duplicate work done by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.
That state-government office is more focused on consumer-oriented, promoting destinations and attracting visitors.
“Our approach is more business-to-business,” she said. “We want to make sure the hospitality industry is robust and it has the resources and environment it needs to reach its maximum potential.”
In addition to lobbying lawmakers and other leaders for policies and funding that promotes growth of the sector, Lambert wants to launch programs to help the hospitality sector improve service.
“We want to promote the adoption of best practices within the state’s tourism industry, have mentorship programs, and possibly enact some type of seal of approval or accreditation process,” she said. “It’s important for us in this industry to understand that visitors don’t see county lines. We have to work together if we’re going to take tourism to the next level in this state.”•