(La Porte County, IN) - There's a budding effort to get more people to come to the northern part of the state by promoting the best the area offers to travelers along the entire stretch of the Indiana Toll Road.
LaPorte County is the first of the seven counties along the Toll Road to invest in the new regional advertising strategy. The La Porte County Council has approved $50,000 this year and in 2023 to help pay for eye-pleasing billboards.
The signs will highlight attractions such as beaches along Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Park, Amish country to the east, and major upcoming events and festivals.
Dan Bearss, Executive Director of the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, said the key is changing the image of this part of the state into a positive one by giving the millions of Toll Road travelers more exposure to what's good about the area.
Bearss said a recent study revealed that more than 60-percent of people from outside Indiana have a negative perception of the northern part of the state.
"We think we can do something about that. We need to do something about that," Bearss said.
The goal is to mirror the success of the "Pure Michigan" campaign that includes a lot of attractive billboards on significant highways about events and attractions to draw interest in the state from travelers.
Right now, the Toll Road has mostly plain-looking billboards advertising traditional retailers and businesses along with ones contributing to the negative image.
"What we have to do is a better job of marketing ourselves and telling our story," Bearss said.
Bearss said the campaign is also a very cost-effective way of reaching a large number of Chicago area residents because of how many of them use the Toll Road.
Bearss also said there's no better way to tap into the Chicago market because heavy media advertising by tourism groups in such a highly-populated area is cost-prohibitive and the audience too fragmented.
"With the Toll Road, when people are driving the road, they're going to see the billboards," Bearss said.
He said the billboard campaign reflects "Indiana's Cool North," a brand developed in 2016 to help with tourism and attract new residents and talent.
La Porte County Convention and Visitors Bureau Jack Arnett, also president of the NITDC, said the plan is to approach the rest of the Toll Road counties for a similar amount of funding toward the effort. The counties are being asked to use strictly a portion of their federal American Rescue Plan monies Congress approved to help municipalities recover from COVID-19.
Arnett said the plan is for tourism officials in each county to develop their own messaging and destinations to promote on the billboards. Attractions and special events are advertised already in things like pamphlets in all plazas along the Toll Road. However, Arnett said only about 20-percent of the travelers stop in the plazas.
Arnett is unsure when the effort will start being reflected on billboards due to work involved in areas like narrowing down what to highlight.
"We want to build the image of LaPorte County and the "Cool North," and we want that to stick with people when they're driving through," Arnett said.