Buoyed by a year of Bicentennial events and the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, Indiana set tourism records in 2016, according to a report commissioned by the Indiana Department of Tourism Development. The report shows 79 million visited the state, spending an estimated $12.2 billion, both state records. Tourism chief Mark Newman says the report also shows the rate of tourism growth in Indiana was better than peer states like Ohio, Illinois and Tennessee. "Our rate of increase, 5.7 percent, exceeds what those states have been experiencing, (which is) closer to two and a half to three and a half percent," said Newman. "We're on a good, good path right now."

In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Newman said 2018 priorities include an increased focus on culinary and agriculture tourism and the Pete Dye Golf Trail.

The report, conducted by Baltimore-based hospitality research firm Rockport Analytics, is based on data from 2016, the most recent year available. It finds that tourism is the fastest-growing job sector in the state and now the 9th largest industry in Indiana.

Additional findings include:

  • Visitor spending added $10.9 billion to the state's gross domestic product
  • Indiana tourism supported 242,000 full-time jobs in the state
  • Indiana tourism directly employed 186,000 Hoosiers  
  • State and local tourism-initiated taxes reached $1.6 billion
  • 1-in-16 Indiana workers owes his/her job to tourism activity
  • Tourism was responsible for nearly 14 percent of net new Hoosier jobs in 2016

Newman says resurrecting and revamping the Pete Dye Golf Trail will be among priorities for 2018. Currently a collection of seven courses from the legendary designer, plans call for the trail to be expanded to nine courses, along with creation of group travel packages, tour opportunities, an enhanced website and marketing and media plan. "We think the golf audience is going to respond to it," said Newman. "It'll be a tourism driver, getting Hoosiers out on golf courses, but attracting outsiders as well."

Watch the entire Mark Newman interview: