More than 200 business, elected and civic leaders gathered at the Indiana Welcome Center on Wednesday, May 6, for the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority's annual Tourism Luncheon.


Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, was this year's keynote speaker. Dow explained the importance of travel to the United States and the various initiatives his organization works on to ensure growth in the industry.


Following Dow, South Shore CVA President and CEO Speros A. Batistatos explained the theme of U.S. Travel Association's National Travel & Tourism Week, "Travel is...," and what it means to the South Shore.


Batistatos explained that tourism is essential to the local economy, and the industry creates jobs for local workers, generating income for region businesses and positively impacting our quality of life.


"Travel is more than 14,000 jobs in Lake County alone, and even more throughout our five-county service region," stated Batistatos. "These jobs come from restaurants, hotels, casinos, attractions, small shops and more."


According to Batistatos, the South Shore is a melting pot of restaurants and offerings enjoyed by both visitors and residents. This year, the South Shore CVA launched the inaugural "Savor the South Shore" Restaurant Week, which followed the "50 Dishes of the South Shore" campaign that was hosted in conjunction with The Times of Northwest Indiana.


"To our hotels, travel is booking conventions, meetings and sporting events. In 2014, sporting events generated almost 11,000 room nights, and conventions generated almost 8,000 more," explained Batistatos. This resulted in $4.66 million in estimated economic impact for the region.


"Travel is reinvesting in our communities," said Batistatos. "With exceptional leaders like Joe Stahura and David Uran, and their projects, the city of Whiting's Lakefront Park and the city of Crown Point's Sportsplex."


"The Crown Point Sportsplex has helped make the region a destination for amateur sporting events and is a great example of the South Shore's potential when investments are made in our community," said Batistatos. Echoing Dow's call to action for the South Shore to invest in a convention center, Batistatos explained how money from increased convention business goes farther in our economy.


"Should the South Shore gain a convention center, our region will be a top contender for major conventions, attracting more business and visitors that will continue to spend their hard-earned money here," explained Batistatos. "Unlike us, we do not have to educate our visitors' children. Their money doesn't need to be spent on repairing roads and collecting garbage."


Batistatos closed the luncheon by asking attendees to consider what travel is to them and their community.


"As I mentioned earlier, travel is essential to the South Shore's economy and our lives. So I ask, how do you answer, ‘What is travel,' said Batistatos.