Students use emerging technology to boost Indiana tourism

Topics: Emerging Media, Immersive Learning, College of Communication Information and Media, College of Sciences and Humanities

May 11, 2010

Visitors and homegrown travelers alike soon will be able to drive 500 miles through a slice of Indiana — albeit slower than an Indy racecar circuiting the famed oval during May — checking out transportation-themed historic sites and hot spots, thanks to immersive learning students at Ball State University and a trio of professors combining skills from the disparate fields of journalism and geography.

The 2010 Indiana 500 Tour, a collaboration between the Association of Indiana Convention and Visitors Bureaus (AICVB) and the team at Ball State, highlights the state's transportation heritage, helping motorists identify 120 local destinations of interest in 20 Hoosier counties at the newly launched Web site at www.indiana500tour.com.

The route, by design, does not include many interstate highways and is meant to promote tourism and economic development in sometimes out-of-the-way communities.

"Indiana has many rich stories to tell, and by developing a Web site that can be accessed conveniently through a cell phone, we can help guide people to some outstanding locations," explained Dick Shoemakerjournalism instructor and co-leader of the project. He mentored the class along with professors Michael Hanley, also representing the journalism program, and Michael Hawkins, from the Department of Geography.

Fifteen Ball State students studying telecommunications, advertising and geography developed the Web site, conducted the necessary GIS mapping and established social media accounts to help promote the new travel opportunity. Other student-created promotional materials will be placed at various visitors bureaus around the state. The project was funded, in part, by AICVB and a Ball State Provost's Immersive Learning Grant.

"This project comes at a time when, because of the recent economic downturn, many are looking for things to do closer to home during their so-called 'staycations, '" Shoemaker said. "For our students, this was a wonderful way to learn how to meld classroom experiences with the latest emerging media technologies found in many of today's evolving smart phones and other portable devices."

Motorists traveling the Indiana 500 Tour not only can get up-to-date information about events and attractions along the tour route but also tweet about their experiences on a designated Twitter account, @in500tour, or follow a blog contributed by fellow travelers at in500tour.tumblr.com.

Integrating emerging media to promote tourism is another example of Ball State's Emerging Media Initiative (EMI), a $17.7 million investment in emerging media and the university's efforts to accelerate its benefits to the state of Indiana by providing more media-savvy human capital.

The Indiana 500 Tour kicks off May 11 with coordinated announcements in four communities traversed by the route: Elkhart County (Nappanee), Kokomo, Lafayette and Richmond. Additional route locations touting the state's transportation and motor sports heritage include Indianapolis, Muncie and South Bend.

The Indiana 500 Tour project is spearheaded by State Rep. Wes Culver (R-Goshen), who wanted to create economic development opportunities for local communities as well as feature some of the state's travel treasures. Culver served as honorary chair for the project, which also has the support of Indiana's Office of Tourism Development.

"Synergism is when the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts," Culver said. "Convention and visitors bureaus across the state cannot accomplish separately what we can accomplish as a team and with the talents and skills of the students and faculty at Ball State. By working together, we can tell visitors what Indiana has to offer, and we all will benefit. And not only will tourism grow, but so will other supporting businesses."

Each dollar spent on tourism promotion and marketing by Indiana's convention and visitors bureaus generates roughly $15 in taxable revenues, according to a 2009 study by Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER). An analysis of innkeeper's taxes and tourism marketing in Indiana finds the tourism industry continuing to produce a positive economic impact on nearly every county in the state.

Ball State plans to continue its collaboration with AICVB during summer 2010, developing advertising materials, travel blogs and adapting the Web site to additional mobile applications.

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