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Tourists more impressed with us than our history

The Harrison County Convention and Tourism Bureau got a raft of information recently about the people who visit here from a year-long four-part study by Purdue University, but perhaps nothing was more surprising than this: Many tourists are not overly impressed with our history and heritage, which local folks think is our strong suite, but they are impressed with the warmth and friendliness of the people and the mellow atmosphere they find in this part of Southern Indiana. They say Harrison County is ideal for daytrips or weekend trips.
That was revealing to the CVB officials, said tourism manager Jim Epperson, because Harrison County is and has been promoted for years as a good destination for people who like history.
People who had never been here but knew about it rated it high as a tourist destination, but those who have been here don’t rate it high on heritage and history, said Epperson.
‘The product doesn’t fulfill the expectations,’ said Epperson. But instead of seeing that as a negative, Epperson said the data provided by a team of travel experts from Purdue is ‘an opportunity to improve the products.’
‘We need to take this information and work with organizations like the state historic sites, the county historical society, the advisory group for the Civil War Battle of Corydon Park, and so on. We need to come up with better ways to tell our stories.’
There are other findings from the $130,000 study, which took five professors and eight to 12 graduate research assistants one year to do. (It involved interviews with almost 1,000 visitors 18 and older at many sites throughout the county over the four seasons.)
Purdue estimates that 1.25 million people came here in 2004. They spent $318.2 million in 2004, which includes gaming at Caesars Indiana. Caesars is by far the biggest draw ‘ 795,000 in 2004, probably a low number, Epperson said ‘ but very few of them did anything besides go to the casino boat in Bridgeport. Without those 1.25 million visitors, the total tax burden for the average Harrison County resident would be $620 more.
The average respondent (who can represent a family of four) spent $444 during his stay here. They spent an average of $78 on lodging, $51 on meals and beverages, and $264 on gaming.
One challenge for the CVB is to get the visitors who come to Bridgeport for more than one evening interested in doing something besides playing poker, eating dinner, or seeing a show in the Colosseum.
‘There is very little cross-over between the gaming and the non-gaming visitors,’ Epperson said. It’s always possible that the gamblers do other things here on other visits, he said.
The Wal-Mart Supercenter in Corydon and its shopper appeal was not included in the study.
The four studies had three purposes:
‘ Provide marketing information to assist the CVB in targeting potential visitors;
‘ Measure the size of the ‘visitor industry,’ and
‘ Provide accountability for the CVB’s marketing efforts.
In other words, Epperson said, the CVB wanted a better idea of exactly who’s coming here, how their numbers can be improved, and how the visitors can be better served once they’re here.
Epperson briefed the Harrison County Council on the studies Monday night. Xinran Y. Lehto, an assistant professor at the Purdue Dept. of Hospitality and Tourism Management, was the first speaker at a public forum last week at the Wright Interpretive Center in Corydon.
Among the findings that she highlighted:
Most of the ‘domestic respondents’ are from close by, Indiana (44.9 percent) and Kentucky (26). The largest number of visitors came from Jefferson County, Ky. Twenty-three percent of the respondents are retirees, and 20 percent are professionals or technicians.
The biggest age group of respondents is 35 to 44 (20.7 percent), followed by 55 to 64 (18.8) and 65 and older (17.4). The largest age group (32.4) was the five to 12 range.
About 8.8 percent of the respondents’ household income fell below $50,000. About 30 percent were in the $50,000 to $79,999 range.
About 27 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 35.3 have high school diplomas. More females come in the spring and summer.
By far the most people (72.5 percent) are here for pleasure. Fifteen percent are on business, and 11.5 percent are here for personal reasons.
Thirty-eight percent had come here seven times or more; 31.1 percent were here for the first time. The most common travel party size is two people. Thirty-five percent of the visitor parties were day-trippers. Another 36.5 and 17.6 percent spent one or two nights, respectively.
Thirty-eight percent who come visit the casino, 12 percent see Marengo Cave, 11 shop in Corydon, 10.8 see historic Corydon, 8 visit the First State Capitol, 6.1 go to Squire Boone Caverns, 5.5 see Wyandotte Caves, 3.8 visit Zimmerman Art Glass, 3.3 visit Turtle Run Winery, and 2.4 percent are here for the county parks.
The main activities visitors want are gambling, dining, driving around, shopping, and visiting caves and historic sites.
Most people get their information about Harrison County from friends and relatives, next is travel Web sites, then the CVB, Welcome Center, brochures and AAA.
Sixty percent say they very likely will return, and 25 percent says it’s likely.
Epperson said at the seminar that ‘Our marketing challenge is to turn ‘intent to return’ into action.’ Each $1 spent on marketing, Purdue estimates, generated $6.05 in new state and local taxes.
Epperson said the studies will help the CVB determine its marketing strategy. ‘We wanted someone on the outside to measure our performance,’ he said. Now, he said, the CVB will ‘shift dollars into geographic markets that are more appropriate.’ For example, now that they know who’s coming from where, they can aim specific advertising at those sectors and at the appropriate mediums. For example, they know that gamblers tend to come from within the 50-mile radius, and they prefer certain kinds of radio shows: country, oldies and news-talk.
Another reason for the four studies ‘ origins and demographics, media usage, event evaluation, etc. ‘ was to get the county ready for the Indiana Bicentennial in 2016. ‘We want to be the center of the universe that year,’ Epperson said.