Speros A.Batistatos of South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority made a powerful presentation to the Jasper County Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting. They hope the commissioners will use some of the county's new hotel and hospitality tax. The tax is intended to be levied on tourists and visitors, just as Jasper County visitors to Indianapolis pay a hospitality tax at hotels.

Jasper County Economic Development Organization, Inc. President Kevin Kelly explained to the commissioners that they need to appoint a tourism commission, they would develop a mission, "The South Shore would come on to execute the vision." Kelly said he has been talking to prospective members.

The CVA promotes area tourism and said they don't believe people see county lines when they are visiting destinations. Batistatos said he has 21 years of experience and the organization has 19 full time employees in its $4.5 million dollar operation. The group used to be called the Lake County Visitors Bureau, but a name change seemed appropriate since they serve two states, five counties and cover everything from the Chicago White Socks to Fair Oaks Farms.

They've recently make a $140,000 overhaul to their web site. Just in the web alone, the value of what Jasper County pays which would help move Jasper County along. They use very little print, said Bastistatos.
Their web traffic has nearly doubled every year for the last three
years: in 2010 - 38,000 visitors, in 2011 - 63,000 visitors, and in 2012 - 119,000 visitors. In an interview after the meeting, Batistatos
said, just the web site alone could pay for itself in the value it offers to Jasper County. The CVA would, for example, set up the site to say simply, ‘Visit Jasper County,' and people logging on will feel like they on Jasper County's web site. Also said Batistatos, there are some very measurable benefits. If someone secures a hotel through the CVA they can track that information.

There are great things to tie together, said Batistatos, like birding
on the lake front, the National park, and the Sandhill Crane Fest. "Festivals and special events really move the occupancy needle quicker than almost anything else you do," sad Batistatos.

"I'd say for the contract amount, what ever that may be, Jasper County will get two, or three or four times that value back." When he started in this business, Batistatos said, there were 17 baby CVA's - now there are 62. It's a growing industry. And Batistatos is excited about the prospects for Jasper County, "I can't underscore how excited my team is about Jasper County." Jasper County has an impressive portfolio and exciting things happening. And there is symmetry with other programs and projects the CVA is already doing. Plus, said Batistaos, Jasper County could take their tax and build and staff a CVA, but that would cost perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. His staff has a cumulative experience of 255 years, he said. Jasper County would get more value to hire the CVA and be able to tie into all that tourism.

Some of the CVA's assets include a mobile tour van which has the internet and 5 TV screens.

The game plan for Jasper County, he said, is to create an identity, establish events, leverage agri-tourism, leverage out door assets, and promote St. Joseph College. And after a recent tour of Jasper County, Batistatos said, "We have the ability, with a phone call, to go when you say you're ready," said Batistatos to the commissioners.