HAMMOND — The tourism and travel industry has pumped a total contribution of $1.62 billion into the Lake County economy in 2010 — the bulk of which comes from out-of-area dollars.
“This is the big headline number,” Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said during a press conference Thursday in the Exhibition Hall of the Indiana Welcome Center. The findings are the result of a recently completed economic impact student conducted by Certec Inc.
Batistatos said the figure represents an average of 2.2 percent a year increase total contribution since 2001 when the industry accounted for an influx of $1.34 billion into Lake County.
About $1.4 billion of that $1.62 billion is in direct expenditures from out of the county.
“It’s money from other places,” he said.
Tourism and travel accounted for 13,908 jobs in Lake County in 2010, 7 percent of all Lake County jobs that year. The industry also generated about $651.3 million in tax revenues in 2010 — $324.4 million to the state, $148.7 million locally and $178.2 to the federal government.
Batistatos said the study only covered the impact on Lake County, though the SSCVA represents Porter and LaPorte counties as well. He said he is confident the addition of the Porter and LaPorte county statistics would show the tourism and travel industry impact in Northwest Indiana is just as big as that in Indianapolis.
Mark Maassel, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum, said tourism is an important aspect of the overall quality of life in the region, creating jobs and generating revenue for the region.
“It’s a necessary element to us to have a solid quality of life,” he said.
While the figures for 2010 were encouraging, Batistatos said the industry is still struggling due to the economy. While growth in Lake County has averaged 2.2 percent year, he said the largest portion of that growth was seen during the boom years of 2001 to 2007.
“I can’t underscore enough how difficult the last three years have been,” he said.
Signs of improvement can be seen. Lake County out-performed its competitors in hotel room occupancy rates in 2010, but at just 60 percent those numbers have plenty of room for improvement. Occupancy was at 42 percent in Porter County and 35 percent in LaPorte County.
“I think 2012 will be a bit soft, but it will be stabilizing on us. That’s important,” he said.