Southern Indiana: A cool place to be
March 07--SOUTHERN INDIANA -- A three-day tourism conference this week brought nearly 200 visitors to experience the evolving attraction of Southern Indiana -- and shed light on the growth to come.
Throughout the first half of the week, tourism representatives from across Indiana, Louisville and beyond met in Clarksville for the annual Indiana Tourism Association conference -- to learn from one another and unite in strengthening the draw to Indiana, while experiencing the unique offerings in the southern part of the state.
The group met for an opening-night party at the Falls of the Ohio, taking in the river, fossil beds and wildlife, before heading into New Albany and Jeffersonville for dinner at local eateries. Tuesday, participants met for all-day workshops before closing the event Wednesday afternoon.
"The biggest takeaway for me is that we're doing things right," Kate Bewley, director of sales at the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention Tourism Bureau said. "And it was good for the community to get [more] Indiana folks down here and get them reignited and excited about our destination."
Southern Indiana has a vast and growing set of attractions to offer visitors -- unique museums, shops, restaurants, beautiful and accessible views of the Ohio River, and wildlife areas. These assets form what people now want from a destination: a personality.
Broadly, this is in line with what's been an overall cultural shift in recent years in what people want from living and traveling, Jim Epperson, director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention Tourism Bureau, said.
"Visitors are wanting local, authentic," he said. "Our communities more and more have that."
One example of meeting visitors' desires lies within the restaurant industry. Ten years ago, chain restaurants were thriving. Today, the attention has shifted to small kitchens with local food unique to the area.
"Those [smaller] restaurants aren't successful because that's what visitors want," he said. "It's what everybody wants. The kinds of things we want in our hometown are the kinds of things we want to experience when we go somewhere else -- we want to see what is local and authentic there."
Bewley said the shift is due in large part to what millennials want to experience.
"They are definitely a different breed," Bewley said. "And I think Southern Indiana has that entrepreneurial spirit that really feeds what they're looking for. The food scene is absolutely amazing, our downtowns are walkable and they offer that authentic Southern Indiana experience."
But it's not just the shops, restaurants or views of the river that make the area special, Bewley said. The residents are the true souls of the community.
"I always have folks come back to me after they've been here, saying 'I met the nicest person; they owned a gallery,' or 'this person owned this store and they had a very nice story.'
"[It's] the people. They may not be the draw, but they tend to be the main takeaway when people head back home."
While one purpose of the tourism conference is collaboration on marketing their respective areas, Southern Indiana has had a strong bond for years. Clark and Floyd are the only two counties in the state to have a combined tourism bureau.
"That is important," Carrie Lambert, executive director of the Indiana Tourism Association, said. "People get really passionate about where they're from and it becomes really county-specific. So to have two counties working together and so successfully, it's something we say we wish we would see more often."
Louann Mattson, communications director for the visitors bureau, said while her heart is in Southern Indiana and all that it's done and continues to do, everyone working together is what makes it, and all of Indiana a better place.
"We, as destinations, need to work together, because we're all marketing Indiana," she said. "We can't compete with each other -- that's defeating the purpose."
Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at email@example.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.