By Ray Balogh
WARSAW — Many visitors to Kosciusko County already have their intended attraction or location picked out, but Mitchell Randall, marketing and communications manager of Kosciusko County Visitor Center, suggests working in another approach as well: “Explore and wander.”
Of course, he recommends a tourist’s first stop should be to the center, located at 111 Capital Drive, Warsaw, behind the giant white “V” on the north side of US 30 a couple miles east of the center of town.
The grounds offer an outdoor picnic area and indoor restrooms, and the immaculate lobby area features three walls filled with brochures of attractions throughout the county, region and state of Indiana. In “more typical times” before and after the pandemic, visitors are welcome to enjoy a fresh complimentary cup of coffee.
They can also browse the two kiosks, which feature local products such as glassware and woodenware; purchase souvenir T-shirts and coffee mugs; or chat with a knowledgeable guide who always staffs the front desk during the center’s business hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We are the official destination organization that promotes and assists the development of the visitor brand experience to leisure, group and corporate travel markets, resulting in increased spending, economic growth and quality of place,” said Randall, reciting the county’s visitor’s bureau statement of purpose.
The center touts the attractions of nine Kosciusko County municipalities: Warsaw, Winona Lake, North Webster, Syracuse, Leesburg, Milford, Pierceton, Mentone and Silver Lake.
Randall said the center “in normal times” welcomes about 40 visitors a month, many from surrounding states, but some from Florida, New York, California and many locations in between.
They most often inquire about “lake activities, including tour boats like the S.S. Lillypad and the Dixie Boat; general shopping and dining; and the Wagon Wheel” Center for the Arts.
The center’s user-friendly website, www.visitkosciuskocounty.org, voted the best in the state this year by the Indiana Tourism Association, offers scores of ideas at the click of a mouse. Categories of suggestions include:
`The main lobby of the visitor center offers three walls worth of brochures and a glimpse of some local products in two glass-encased kiosks. Photo provided.• Arts and entertainment: art galleries, attractions, cultural centers, festivals and event, music and theater, nightlife.
• Sip and savor: brew, wine and spirits; coffeehouses; dining local; food wars; ice cream shops; and outside and lakeside dining.
• Sleep: B&B and guesthouses, cabins and cottages, campgrounds, hotels, resorts and inns, retreat centers and camps.
• Explore: live here, work here, communities.
The comprehensive site also includes digital guides; event calendar and e-newsletter; trip ideas; blog; location map; and several tools to help trip planning, such as attraction profile sheets, sample itineraries and group tour and meeting planners.
The center also captured the association’s 2019 award for publishing the state’s best visitor guide.
The economic impact of visitors to Kosciusko County is significant and, before the pandemic, was growing robustly, according to Jill Boggs, chief executive officer of the county’s convention and visitors bureau.
“The travel and tourism industry contributed to the Kosciusko County economy $162.2 million in 2015 and $184.5 million in 2017. The latest research shows $200 million spent by visitors in 2019,” she said, citing the most recent economic report.
“This trajectory was the normal before the not-so-normal happened. It also recognizes the contributions to our economy by residents. An additional $21.2 million was contributed through resident spending in the local tourism industry.”
Boggs optimistically noted, “This research provides an excellent benchmark year as we rise out of this push-and-pull economy and current state of turmoil the industry is experiencing.
“We at the bureau choose to focus on the fact that the growth over the last five years proves what we already know — that people like it here. People want to visit Kosciusko County.”
She also said the demographics of travel are changing. “The visitor economy is pertaining to more than just the leisure visitor. In our work as destination marketing and management professionals, the visit is critical not only to leisure, but also group, corporate travelers, visiting friends and family, business relocation, talent attraction, entrepreneurship and more.
“Everything we have to gain by way of economic gain comes from a visit.”
The center remains open during the pandemic, and the staff has taken precautions to ensure the health of visitors.
For more information, call (574) 269-6090.