For more than a year, a local group tasked with bringing visitors to Johnson County has been saving money from a new tax on hotel stays and talking about the county’s assets.
The Johnson County Convention, Visitor and Tourism Commission, which was formed last year, hired a director and set a budget, with the majority of its money this year going toward marketing groups and other consultants who are tasked with studying the county and developing a brand and marketing strategy.
When the different studies and assessments are done, the board will then decide how to best market the county, including whether previous work to create a brand for the county should be kept or tossed and finding a baseline so the board can see if its efforts are actually working, commission president Mike Neal said.
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Board members have taken cues from other counties, including Hamilton and Hendricks counties, who already have a visitors bureau to see what has worked, and not worked, for them, Neal said.
Johnson County was one of the last central Indiana counties to approve an innkeepers tax, which charges an added 5 percent on local hotel and motel stays and brings in about $500,000 per year.
After the tax was approved last year, the county formed the commission to oversee how the money is spent.
When the local group was formed, the appointed members expected a large portion of their budget would go toward professional services, or contracts with marketing firms and consultants, and this year is spending 68 percent of this year’s $527,000 budget on those costs, Neal said. Another $88,000 is being spent on the director, Kenneth Kosky.
Board members have full-time jobs, and Kosky is focused on meeting with local businesses, getting up-to-date information on attractions and businesses and communicating with elected officials. Hiring a marketing firm for social media posts and promotional items, such as videos and photos, makes the most sense, instead of trying to hire staff to do that work, Neal said.
“That is the best way for us to invest money in the community and we will get a lot more bang for our buck than having to hire those folks,” Neal said.
The group also didn’t want to miss out on the key travel season, with races, the firefighters convention and GenCon happening during the summer in Indianapolis, while they were getting organized, he said.
“We get a lot of overflow here from hotels and different events. People spend time in Johnson County,” Neal said.
This year, the group is spending up to $5,000 per month on a contract with Hirons that includes social media marketing, developing a marketing strategy and creating a video showcasing local attractions, including the Hoosier Horse Park, the Historic Artcraft Theatre and the county’s many wineries and breweries, Neal said.
And now the commission is looking to hire a company for a long-term contract to do that work in the future, he said.
This year, the board is also spending money on studies and creating a branding strategy, which are key in moving forward, Neal said.
One of the first needs was a visitor profile and economic impact study, at a cost of $13,400, which will create a baseline of where the county currently stands with tourists and visitors coming in and spending money, Neal said. That study will then be repeated every two to three years to continue to measure the impact of what the board is doing, he said.
“It’s important for us in bringing value to the taxpayer. These are taxpayer dollars, and we are aware we are stewards of taxpayer money, and we need to get the best bang for our buck,” Neal said.
“We want to be able to show: here is what we invested and where we are now.”
Another important starting piece is a branding strategy development, at a cost of $30,000, where a consultant is assessing the county’s current marketing strategy and brand and seeing how that needs to be updated, Neal said.
Aspire Johnson County, a group of local officials and business leaders, created a website and brand called Journey Johnson County.
The consultant will be studying whether that is the best brand, website and logo to use moving forward, Neal said.
“If we are going to spend these dollars to promote our destination, we need to do it in the best way and do it early,” Neal said.
“We don’t want to find out years down the road, these aren’t the best for us, and we’re not getting as many hits or visitors because we’re not properly branded.”
Here is a look at how the Johnson County Convention, Visitor and Tourism Commission is spending money collected from the county innkeeper’s tax this year:
Total budget: $527,200
Professional services: $360,000
Director salary: $88,000
Grants and promotions: $20,000
Service expenses: $15,000
Travel and training: $15,000
Operating expenses: $12,000
Equipment and equipment maintenance: $6,000
Office supplies: $2,500
Here is a look at the contracts the Johnson County Convention, Visitor and Tourism Commission for this year:
Visitor profile and economic impact study of tourism in Johnson County
Roger Brooks International: $30,000
Branding strategy development
Hirons: Up to $5,000 per month
Social media plan, strategy development, marketing materials