Toboggan slide

This is a scene many hope will not be repeated into the future: The Pokagon State Park toboggan slide operating with only one track available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many precautions were taken at the popular attraction in order to just be able to open it for the season.

ANGOLA — There was a decline in revenue for the Steuben County Innkeepers Tax Commission and correspondingly the Steuben County Tourism Bureau due to the pandemic hitting tourism hard in 2020.

Even though innkeepers receipts were off by 8% locally, that figure was minuscule compared to other locales in Indiana that tend to generate significant visitor dollars.

“We need to get proactive on filling those (hotel) rooms,” said June Julien, executive director of the tourism bureau.

COVID-19 had a strong impact on many visitor areas, though not everywhere.

For example, with Trine University virtually shut down last spring and athletics all but canceled last fall, traffic from athletic events was down 83%. The university hopes to reverse that trend next academic year; it was announced on Tuesday that Trine hoped to return to business as usual on campus this fall.

Gate revenue at Pokagon State Park was up 13% overall, even after the park was shut down last spring when just about the entire state was on lockdown by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s order.

Another area that was up big was camping, though the bureau doesn’t track those numbers because campsites aren’t taxed like hotel rooms. Cabins at the campgrounds are subject to the 5% innkeepers tax and this revenue area was up.

There is the potential for new revenue on the horizon as the national rental by owner operations, VRBO and Airbnb have entered into agreements with the state to make sure their member owners pay innkeepers taxes to local entities with room taxes in place.

“Do you think that’s going to go up this year,” commission member Carter Snider asked.

“I don’t have enough information. I would think we’ll stay even, but I don’t know,” Julien said.

In 2020 vacation rentals by owners accounted for 19% of the bureau’s revenue. That was up from 7% in 2019. Revenue from hotels dropped to 72% in 2020 from 86% in 2019.

Much of that was due to the shutdowns. Potawatomi Inn, for example, was shut down for significant periods of time last year and into this year.

Throughout the state, Julien said, events continue to be canceled. Many events through July have been canceled and some in August are considering calling off.

This past winter, Pokagon State Park did operate its toboggan slide, but only at 50% capacity and with many restrictions in place. That, along with the inn being closed, really cut into visitation early this year. Traffic at the toboggan was down 63% this season.

When the pandemic eases its grip on the world, tourism will probably return strongly, predicts Shane Christ, president of the Steuben County Tourism Bureau board.

“When hospitality comes back, it’s going to come back in a big way,” Christ said.

Locally, the innkeepers tax helps promote tourism in Steuben County and a wide variety of programs supported by the tourism bureau.

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