Last modified: Monday, October 27, 2008
IU tourism experts examine impact on Orange County communities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 27, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- New tourism development in Orange County, Ind., home of the nearly two-year-old French Lick Resort Casino and other attractions, has generated enthusiasm and support from local residents and businesses, say tourism experts from Indiana University. These experts are collecting data to see if support sours -- which is common when tourism is seen as an economic development tool -- and if this trend can be prevented.
Shu Cole, associate professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies, said tourism studies show that residents' attitudes often change over time. Enthusiasm and optimism can fade when the economic benefits do not materialize, with tourists sometimes encountering open hostility rather than hospitality. Charles Chancellor, assistant professor in the same department, agreed.
"Tourism affects everyone," he said. "The money might not be there as originally thought. But the traffic and development is there, as well as an increase in consumer prices."
Last year Chancellor surveyed residents and Cole conducted focus groups with businesses to gather baseline data. Tourism development in Orange County is not limited to the casino and resort but it largely has spawned from this new development, allowing the researchers to gather feedback from residents and businesses that is current -- not based on their memory of how they felt years ago. The researchers plan to repeat the survey and focus groups in three to five years to monitor changes and to offer input on how to minimize potential negative impacts. They also have proposed several other projects to county tourism officials, including the development of a comprehensive regional tourism development plan for the county.
Chancellor discussed his findings earlier this month at the World Leisure Congress in Canada. The survey involved a random sampling, drawing from 649 usable surveys. Here are some of the survey's findings:
- Respondents strongly agreed that tourism planning and management was important and should be centered around the community so the community could benefit. An example is wanting the tourism industry to purchase and hire locally.
- Residents wanted a voice in development decisions.
- Respondents reportedly felt the social costs -- such as increased crime and more traffic -- were very low. Their way of life was not negatively affected.
The three focus groups were conducted in June 2007 and involved business owners and managers from French Lick/West Baden, Orleans and Paoli. Here are some of the focus group findings:
- None of the businesses had made any changes to their operations because they had not experienced a drastic increase in new business. They had experienced some benefits, such as benefits from construction and employees eating in local restaurants.
- Businesses in French Lick and West Baden, where the casino, resort and new water park are located, were more optimistic about economic benefits. Business people in Paoli and Orleans, 11 and 16 miles away, respectively, discussed the need for a critical mass -- broader tourism and business development in their communities to get tourists to make the drive over.
- The business people discussed the challenge in addressing two markets: the residents' needs and tourists' needs. Tourists, for example, want stores to stay open later and they buy different goods. The business people expressed concern about having a critical mass of stores able to stay open later.
- The focus groups revealed a need for employee training so more local residents could work in the new tourism businesses and attractions. Cole said this is an area where IU could help with training.