Total of visitors to Indiana grows by 2 percent from 2015 to 2016

Mark Newman, the executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, talks Dec. 12, 2017, with 24-Hour News 8. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s tourism numbers are up, breaking record highs in 2016.

The state’s Office of Tourism Development said a record 79 million people came to Indiana in 2016. That is almost 2 percent more than 2015.

Leesa Smith is seeing the impact at the Nestle Inn bed and breakfast, which she owns.

Smith said, “This year, our November and December, which can be slow, are going to be really fantastic months for us.”

She said their visitors come to Indiana from around the world. “We had some from Brazil this year. We had a family from France come and stay for two weeks. We had some people from Germany.”

Indiana’s tourism development office said visitors spent $12.2 billion in Indiana in 2016. That’s a $600 million boost compared to the year prior. Things including conventions across the state, hotels and events are part of the attraction. But what’s the biggest factor?

“Food and beverage.” said Mark Newman, executive director of the tourism development office. “So, people eating in our restaurants, drinking in our drinking establishments.”

According to Visit Indiana, of the money spent in 2016, close to $3 billion went into Indiana’s economy.

The shot in Indiana’s economic arm came after the state took a hit to its image after the 2015 signing into law of a controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act by former Gov. Mike Pence, now the U.S. vice president. Months later, a “fix” created limited equal rights protections.

Newman said, “I’ll tell you, there was some significant work done to repair image and impression, to reassure folks that Indiana is a welcoming place.”