Editorial: State should experiment with more tourism spending

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

The state’s tourism agency is seeking an $18 million increase in funding over the next two years as it works to increase the number of people who see Indiana as a destination.

In total, the Indiana Destination Development Corp. is requesting a baseline annual budget of $14.8 million in both 2024 and 2025, as well as more than $8 million in additional pass-through funding for museums, entertainment venues and a new tourism bid fund meant to attract more events, according to IBJ reporter Mickey Shuey (see page 8A).

The baseline budget for the current fiscal year is $5.8 million.

The budget request—which lawmakers will consider when they reconvene in January—is pared way back from initial plans to ask for up to $40 million per year. That would have put Indiana’s tourism spending more in line with tourism budgets in neighboring states. But after conversations with the State Budget Agency, the Indiana Destination Development Corp. settled on a much lower number—one that would still make it significantly more competitive.

We urge lawmakers to take a serious look at this request—but to do so with strings attached.

Policymakers learned this week that, despite projections for a mild downturn, state tax revenue will likely increase by $1.6 billion during the next two-year budget cycle. Of course, much of that will be eaten up by increases in education spending (just a 1% increase in public school funding costs the state $75 million a year), Medicaid costs and employee raises.

But we think the state should experiment a bit with spending more to attract out-of-state visitors.

Indiana’s tourism budget has been underfunded compared with those of its neighbors for decades. And maybe that’s never seemed like a huge problem. But at a time when flexibility at work means people have more opportunities to choose where they want to live, Indiana should be doing all it can to show off what being a Hoosier—whether permanently or simply during vacation—is all about.

Of course, there’s no way to know in advance whether increased tourism spending will achieve that goal. That’s why a boost in spending should be accompanied by requirements for tracking where the money goes and whether it leads to increased visitation or a boosted reputation. If the tourism dollars show a healthy return on investment, then the additional spending can continue. If not, lawmakers can pull back on it.

A key, of course, will be spending enough to make an impact. Already, the State Budget Agency—which reviews department spending requests—has significantly scaled back the amount the Indiana Destination Development Corp. initially thought would make it more competitive. So cutting the request any more might make it impossible for the agency to be successful in attracting more people.

Instead, lawmakers should earmark additional spending toward tourism over the next two years and monitor the results carefully. They might find a few extra million make a big difference in not only tourism but the state’s workforce as well.•

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