Bill transforming state tourism office clears hurdle in Statehouse

An effort to turn the state’s tourism office into a quasi-governmental agency cleared a major hurdle in the Statehouse on Monday, with the proposal receiving unanimous approval from the House of Representatives.

House Bill 1115, filed by Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, would create the Indiana Destination Development Corp., a quasi-governmental corporation that would receive funding from tourism-related organizations, along with appropriations in the state budget. The bill does not increase state appropriations for the tourism agency.

IBJ first reported on the bill in January. The IDDC would replace the Office of Tourism Development, which is a branch of the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

The bill received an amendment prior to its approval dropping the number of board members from 11 to seven. Previously that group included the lieutenant governor and the heads of several state agencies. Under the amendment, the governor or a designee would sit on the board, as well as the executive director of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. or a designee.

A study released by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office in December reported that visitors to Indiana increased from 78.9 million in 2016 to 79.9 million in 2017, and that visitor spending rose in that period from $12.2 billion to $12.7 billion.

“Businesses and communities throughout Indiana are experiencing tremendous economic growth thanks to a boost in record tourism from both in- and out-of-state visitors,” Karickhoff said in a written statement. “Through the Indiana Destination Development Corp., the tourism industry and private sector could communicate and collaborate with the state more freely.”

He said the set-up would “create more incentives” to promote the state’s attractions.

The bill’s 91-0 passage by the House means it moves on to the state Senate, where it has a bi-partisan group of sponsors—Mark Messmer, R-Jasper; Tim Lanane, D-Anderson; and Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg—lined up to help push it through.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch has also expressed support for the bill, likening the proposed structure to that of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which in 2005 replaced the state’s Department of Commerce. The IEDC can receive donations, but it also gets state funding of about $6.7 million per year.

Indiana’s tourism bureau is among the lowest-funded in the United States. It received $4.2 million for the 2018 budget year—a fraction of what many peer states use to fund tourism efforts.

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