A few months into the year, tourism revenue in Johnson County has already surpassed expectations.
Festival Country, the county’s convention, visitors and tourism commission, has seen significantly higher hotel revenue for the first four months of the year, compared to 2021. Festival Country runs the county visitor’s center in Franklin, and conducts marketing campaigns and promotes local businesses, attractions and festivals across Johnson County. The commission also provides grants for attractions, festivals and events.
From January to April of this year, the county has seen $253,780 in hotel revenue, up significantly from the first four months of 2021, when they collected $193,765, said Ken Kosky, executive director. Measuring tourism in the county is best done with innkeeper’s taxes, a 5% tax that lodging visitors pay during their stays in Johnson County.
“We’re crushing the record every month so far,” Kosky said.
The increases don’t stop there. Festival Country officials have seen increases in the commission’s social media following, website traffic advertising impressions and more metrics. There has also been a jump in the number of visitors at the visitor center, with 906 people stopping by in the first four months of 2022 compared to the 655 people in 2021, he said.
“All of our metrics are up,” Kosky said. “I really think the Festival Country brand is resonating with visitors.”
While inflation and higher gas prices are affecting many people’s budgets, what Festival Country officials have seen so far is that people are still willing to travel to attend events in the county. The current inflation rate is 8.6%, a 40-year high, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. Johnson County’s average retail cost for regular gasoline is $5.08, as of Monday afternoon, according to AAA.
Johnson County’s geographic position, just south of Indianapolis, makes it easy to draw visitors from surrounding areas, Kosky said.
Many visitors are looking to attend festivals, concerts and outdoor activities in Johnson County this summer, including Festival Country’s newest venture: the Gatling Gauntlet, which opened earlier this month. The Gauntlet is a new obstacle course at Johnson County Park that features 20 different obstacles all laid out on a 1.6 mile course. Attendees can go under, over, through and around the varying features, utilizing strength, speed and agility in a myriad different ways.
“I think our launching of the Gauntlet … will keep the momentum going,” he said. “It’s already moved up to the No. 3 (most-viewed) thing viewed on our website.”
Visitors are also attending concert series that are taking place across Johnson County. Greenwood is continuing their annual summer concert series, but now with the opening of the DriveHubler.com Amphitheater, Franklin has one too. The concert series at Mallow Run Winery in Bargersville has also been popular, Kosky said.
In addition to concerts, people are being drawn here for farmers markets and other events taking place this summer. There also are plenty of water parks, brew pubs and other venues available for visitors, he said.
“I think visitors know if they come into our county on Friday night or weekend, they know they’re going to have many entertainment options,” Kosky said.
Festival Country has also continued to offer grants to their partners to bring visitors into the county. Among the entities receiving grants this year was the Greenwood Parks and Recreation Department, which received a grant from Festival Country for their pickleball tournament. Franklin’s parks department also received a grant to launch the summer concert series at the amphitheater, he said.
The Historic Artcraft Theatre received a grant for its 100th anniversary event scheduled for Sept. 10 this year.
One type of establishment officials found to be more popular this year are wedding and event venues. Kosky believes this is because of the number of weddings and events that were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
The Sycamore at Mallow Run has definitely seen an increase in wedding bookings this year, said Amy McQueen, event coordinator for The Sycamore. Last year, The Sycamore had several events take place that were rescheduled from 2020, she said.
And this year, the Bargersville event venue has already had almost every Saturday booked through spring to the end of the year for weddings. Staff has also noticed more weddings with larger guest lists, she said.
“We’ve noticed a lot of larger weddings,” McQueen said. “People are ready to get out and celebrate and see each other again.”
In addition to Saturday bookings, they’ve noticed more weddings happening throughout the week as well, including on Thursdays. Friday and Sunday bookings have also increased, she said.
Along with weddings, The Sycamore is also working to increase their corporate event offerings as well. Networking events are starting to happen again, along with businesses planning company parties and off-site retreats during the week. Those are filling up even more booking slots, McQueen said.
After more than two years of COVID-19, it seems like the mood of both the nation and travelers is to enter the post-pandemic period, Kosky said.
“Sure it still exists, but I think the majority of people are willing to travel and experience the thing they have been missing for a couple years,” he said.
Kosky expects this year’s innkeeper’s tax revenue to surpass $1 million, even more than 2021’s record $825,623 in revenue.
Later this year, Festival Country is planning to bring a temporary ice skating rink into one of the communities this winter as a new attraction, he said.
Festival Country officials have also commissioned a tourism impact study this year. The study will analyze the overall impact of tourism on the local economy now as compared to 2017, when the organization commissioned a baseline study, Kosky said.