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Survey: Southern Indiana shows tourism support

Jim Epperson is the executive director of SoIN Tourism.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A survey commissioned by the destination marketing organization for Clark and Floyd counties shows residents are supportive of tourism efforts in southern Indiana and have a desire for more opportunities, particularly following the pandemic. SoIN Tourism Executive Director Jim Epperson says the organization wanted to get an idea of resident sentiment, particularly in response to other destinations that were seeing pushback against marketing to visitors. “This field of research started to emerge to help us benchmark where we are with our residents and how they feel about tourism and its positive or negative impact on quality of life,” said Epperson.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Epperson said he was shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response.

“While I wasn’t expecting problems in our results, I wasn’t expecting us to so far outpace the rest of the country, the way residents feel about tourism around the rest of the Midwest or the rest of the country,” said Epperson. “And we didn’t believe it. When we first got those positive results, we had to question [them].”

The Tourism Resident Sentiment Survey was conducted last fall by Ohio-based Longwoods International.

Among the key findings, about 75% of respondents said tourism is good for both the state and their local area, and they believe the positive benefits of tourism outweigh the negative ones. SoIN says that figure is “significantly higher” than the Midwest and U.S. results from a national survey conducted last July.

Additionally, around the same number of respondents felt tourism should be encouraged and there should be more local major events to attract more tourists.

When taking a second look at the results and the methodology, officials found the pandemic played a major role in residents’ sentiment toward tourism.

“What we found was [the results were] consistent in destinations that, during COVID, where the destination organization turned their attention to supporting local businesses…you saw that outsized positive attitude toward tourism,” he said. “It really opened up residents’ eyes about the value of tourism to the community when their favorite restaurant was hurting because they couldn’t accept in the door residents or visitors. It really elevated the value in people’s minds of the hospitality and tourism industries.”

Another key finding was that while the majority of respondents felt southern Indiana needs planned and controlled tourism development, only a third believed residents were consulted when major tourism development takes place.

“No, we’re going to be taking the results of this study to a lot of different areas, especially in the public sector, to say, ‘Here are some policy implications that we think you should be aware of and that you should consider…because your residents now have opinions about this,’” said Epperson.

Epperson says he wants to make sure SoIN Tourism is working with public bodies to ensure that there aren’t future complaints about tourism development.

You can connect to the full survey results by clicking here.