We’ve made a tradition out of celebrating Visit Indiana Week at the start of May to usher in the busy spring and summer travel season in the Hoosier state and in this, our bicentennial year, the tradition takes on added significance. By the end of 2016, Indiana destinations will have welcomed more than 70 million visitors who will enjoy all manner of special experiences – many of them connected to our bicentennial – and you should be among them! Let me tell you why it’s a good idea to hit the road in 2016 and be an Indiana tourist.

It makes economic sense:  Tourism contributes to a strong, vibrant and diverse economy.  When you hit the road in Indiana, communities throughout the state benefit and so does the Hoosier workforce.  Tourism is big business in Indiana and in recent years has become even bigger.  It is the state’s sixth largest industry, is directly responsible for over 144,000 jobs and contributes $10.7 billion in revenue to Indiana businesses.  In addition, tourism jobs stay in the state.  The tourism trade thrives on healthy competition and is one of the few industries where jobs cannot be exported.

You’ve got the time, so why don’t you use it:  Paid time off (PTO) is perhaps the most underutilized benefit that American workers receive from their employer today.  Research by the US Travel Association indicates that nearly three-quarters of workers say they are stressed at work, with one in four saying they are either very stressed or extremely stressed.  It’s no surprise Americans feel this way.  Many workers leave PTO unused despite near-universal recognition of the importance and benefits of using it, from reducing stress to improving productivity upon returning to work.

Indiana keeps racking up accolades and recognition for its destination qualities:  There’s a reason why Indiana made USA Today’s list of 14 places in America you have to visit in 2016.  Some of it has to do with the Indiana Bicentennial Celebration, but it also has to do with the beauty of our backroads, the allure of culture-rich destinations that dot our landscape and the heartwarming appeal of our people.  If you have not done it already, it’s high time you got out to see what the writers are talking about.

Here are just a few places and things to do that stand out:

Columbus is one of the world’s most compelling architecture and design destinations.

French Lick and West Baden are home to the finest historic resort in America.

The beaches along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline are regarded as among the best to visit in the country.

The Levi Coffin historic site and interpretive center in tiny Fountain City set to open this fall is among Smithsonian Magazine’s 12 “must-see new museums” in the world in 2016.

Our system of mountain biking trails in Brown County is the finest east of the Mississippi River.

Our wineries and microbreweries have been awarded international prizes for excellence and our array of local foods and destination dining experiences led Midwest Living Magazine to say "Indiana just might offer the richest statewide dining lineup in the region."

And Indiana’s annual range of festivals is among the largest and most diverse in the USA and our burgeoning music scene is attracting people in droves to places like Goshen’s Ignition Music Garage for the best in Americana music and nearby Elkhart for their popular jazz festival.

The kid factor:  Children benefit immensely from travel.  Countless studies on the effect of leisure travel on a child’s development provide compelling support.  It breeds eagerness and enthusiasm, broadens perspective, piques curiosity and taps into that sometimes elusive creative spark that is so important to effective problem solving.  And, of course, there is the bonding time that comes with a memorable travel experience, when those who care about one another travel together.  It is indeed our bicentennial year, but we’re celebrating several other milestones in 2016 too.  For example, our wonderful state park system turns 100 this year, as does the national parks system (Indiana has three national parks).  The iconic film Hoosiers turns 30, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari turns 70, we commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s move to his boyhood home in Spencer County and of course there’s the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Our state’s heritage is played out in these important commemorations.  What better way is there to teach kids about the past than to give them a meaningful experience in the present?

Time to pass the torch:  In 2016, we will see the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay pass through more than 260 communities. It will be the ultimate Indiana road trip.  The torch will touch each of Indiana’s 92 counties during a 3,200-mile journey throughout the state.  The torch relay will be an inspirational and unifying event during this year of celebration and will connect people, communities and generations in unprecedented ways.  A good excuse to hit the road in 2016 is to trail the torch.  That is, follow it from community to community on its five-week journey.  There will be no better way to truly experience Indiana.

The torch is the centerpiece of our state flag. It represents liberty, enlightenment and Indiana’s far-reaching influence.  The Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay is a singular opportunity to celebrate Indiana achievements, influence and heritage while also symbolically “passing the torch” to future generations of Hoosiers.

As we head into May and the start of the popular spring and summer travel season, I hope you will make plans during this bicentennial year to visit an Indiana destination. Travel makes a difference in our communities and personal lives every day.

Mark Newman is the executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

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