Knoxville — After long winter, Iowans are likely eager to begin thinking about their spring and summer vacations. Aaron Buzza, President of the Travel Federation of Iowa, says that tourism is an important economic sector in Iowa, one that provides a great deal of return on investment.
The Travel Federation of Iowa is comprised of three regions in the state, which represent everyone involved in tourism in the state. Monthly meetings of the federation are held in Des Moines. Buzza is serving a one-year term as president.
“People want to come to Iowa,” Buzza said. “Iowa's very accessible and affordable.”
The federation is currently focused on lobbying and grassroots efforts for greater State support of the industry. Buzza indicates that the State allocated $4 million for tourism this fiscal year.
That $4 million investment has helped spur over $7.6 billion in spending by travelers in the state. The $7.6 billion is 5 percent higher than the previous year.
Tourism spending in Iowa also provides the state with $345 million in tax revenue. That money can fund a great deal of teachers, firefighters and police officers, Buzza said. He is proud of tourism's contributions to the state's economy.
“We're a good economic development partner,” Buzza said. He added that tourism “imports taxpayers,” and that the money received from travelers has an immediate impact on local economies.
While the State invested $4 million in tourism, that figure is well below the average in the Midwest. The average, according to Buzza, is $15.8 million. Illinois skews that figure, but without Illinois' heavy spending, the average is still between $10-12 million.
The federation is not only concerned about money from the Legislature, but it is also supportive of making law changes as well. The federation wants to push the official starting date for schools back, past the end of the summer travel season. Most schools get a waiver each year to start school in August. Buzza said he hopes the Legislature understands the importance of tourism in Iowa and make it a priority.
Iowa is finding success in its tourism industry with the limited outreach, largely focused on families. The state attracts Baby Boomers and members of Generations X and Y, but more of them could be pulled into the state if the advertising outreach could be stronger.
Geography also helps Iowa, as the state is within a close drive to several metropolitan areas. Iowa's own attractions – and the number of them – are growing while maintaining affordability. Above that, our “Iowa nice” reputation travels well.
“We're friendly,” Buzza said. Travelers don't always experience locals who are happy to offer tips on where to eat, directions, etc. Those little things are appreciated.
Iowa offers many opportunities for local flavor, both the edible and the experiences offered. In most parts of Iowa, any night of the week, a traveler can find something to do. Buzza, a Minnesota import himself, can't say enough good things about Iowa.
“We've found a place that we really enjoy being,” Buzza said. “There is something available here.”
No matter where one goes in the state, there is history. Whether that history is a brief one for young businesses, our agricultural history or the other industries that Iowa nurtured and grew, tourists want to be part of what is going on in the state.
“What we have is a story,” Buzza said. “(Tourists) want to learn something.”
As for the prospects for this summer travel season, Buzza believes that many people have cabin fever. Water parks, lakes, trails, golf courses, etc., will be among the most popular destinations in Iowa this year. That includes Lake Red Rock. Buzza's full-time job is as the Director of the Waterloo Convention and Visitors Bureau.