According to the U.S. Travel Association, since 2001 the “Lost Decade” has lost 68.3 million visitors that cost the United States $270 billion in lost trade surplus, as international travel to the U.S. is our largest service export.
So, what does this mean to Indiana? It’s up to us.
International visitors to northern Indiana are not low hanging fruit; those who come for the first time are awed by the diversity of the United States. After the perfunctory visits to New York City, Washington, D.C., California, and Florida, the more curious want to see the “real”America, the heartland, and that’s when we enter the stage. Those who get to Chicago are ours for the asking. Meeting world standards of tourist hospitality is not natural to us. To be competitive with other destinations we must be geared for the predominance of Western Europeans, newly freed Eastern Europeans, and the multitude and variety of Asians with multilingual guides, scripts and signage, currency exchange options, and some understanding of their cultural norms and of what makes us attractive to those precious visitors.
Amish Acres is celebrating its 40th anniversary of historical interpretation of Amish society in 2010. We have always viewed ourselves as part of the international community—we fly the Canadian flag as a sign of neighborliness and welcome; it’s amazing how many Americans ask “why?” My recent trip to Egypt and Greece solidified the nobleness and economic power of our profession. I often return to Pope John Paul II who put it eloquently:
The world is becoming a global village in which people from different continents are made to feel like next door neighbors. In facilitating more authentic social relationships between individuals, tourism can help overcome many real prejudices, and foster new bonds of fraternity. In this sense tourism has become a real force for world peace.
It will be difficult for Indiana to find benefit from this initiative. The $2,100,000 tourism budget as proposed in the 2009-2010, 2010-2011 Indiana general fund budget will place Indiana 49th in the nation, only ahead of Delaware, relative to other state tourism budgets, according to the United State Travel Association. In contrast, our neighbors Illinois and Michigan’s tourism budgets have recently been $50.4 million and $40 million respectively.
It is ironic that through Senator Ryan Mishler’s leadership the Indiana Legislature passed a $2,000,000 Matching Marketing Partnership Program in 2009, initiated right here in Elkhart County, that is even more sophisticated than this new federal legislation, but remains unfunded by Governor Daniels and the state budget director despite its 100% matching provision that engages the public, private, and not-for-profit Hoosier tourism industry. Hopefully this national initiative will influence Indiana’s governmental leadership to follow suite.
Within these parameters, Indiana remains undiscovered and to those seeking the unspoiled, like Brigadoon can make us a blessing rather than a curse.