The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority celebrated National Travel and Tourism Week on Wednesday at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond. Regional officials and business and community leaders gathered for a luncheon and presentation on the state of national and regional tourism.
"In the last 15 years we've put a heavy emphasis on getting nationally recognized speakers to talk about tourism in the national sense as well as regional. We like to showcase what's going on to the media and bring everyone up to date on relevant issues," Speros Batistatos, President and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority said. "We hold the luncheon every year on National Tourism Day during National Tourism Week and it's been this way for over 20 years."
“Our elected officials are so important,” Batistatos continued. “We have great friends in the public sector who understand what we do and I’ve been able to meet some incredible people in this business. So many different business types and sectors are affected by travel and tourism. Travel is a driving investment and it means big business for our small businesses in the region.”
Travel and tourism generates $2.1 trillion nationally and supports over 15 million jobs nationwide, which is twice as big as the auto industry. Locally, the tourism industry means more than 14 thousand jobs in Lake County and even more throughout our five county region.
Giving the keynote address at the event was Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. Dow has been with the U.S.T.A. since 2005, and before that he spent 34 years with Marriott International. He was key in establishing Brand USA., which promotes travel to the U.S..
"Roger could be speaking anywhere in the country today, and he is here with us at the South Shore," Batistatos said. "Simply put: that is a big deal."
“We don’t realize the scope of this industry,” Dow said. “Travel is a top 10 employer in nearly every state. It plays an important part in our lives and creates a multi-billion dollar economy. For American companies travel makes for good business. This industry is about jobs and small businesses. Unlike other industries, no matter where you are in the country there’s a job in travel and tourism.”
Travel only grew by 1.5% in the years following 9/11, and tight restrictions on Visas meant that in some places overseas it took up to four months to get the opportunity to interview for a travel Visa. Since 2009, though, Brand USA and other organizations have worked together as a group to change things and they’ve been quite successful. Travel and tourism has experienced a 37% faster growth than any other industry in the country.
“Northwest Indiana is lucky to have so many elected officials working hard and being here to promote travel and tourism in the region,” Dow said. “The potential here is enormous. Being so close to Chicago allows you the opportunity to bring visitors down here. This tourism will translate into jobs and economic growth.”
But the convention's theme wasn't just about better jobs from travel, it was also about building better lives and reinforcing the positive impact that travel has on relationships and health.
“Four out of ten American workers don’t take all the vacation time they have,” Dow continued. “These ‘American Work Martyrs’ take pride in not taking time off and it has a huge impact on the economy. This movement is about changing lifestyles and creating a better life through travel.”