St. Joe County tourism spending reaches $447.1 million

The verdict is out on St. Joseph County tourism and the outcome has businesses seeing the green.

Visit South Bend Mishawaka enlisted the help of a specialized firm to analyze tourism spending. The findings show that visitors to the region brought in $447.1 million, compared to $408.3 million in 2009.

"It's a nice affirmation to see that tourism is a viable opportunity for us in St. Joseph County," said Rob DeCleene, executive director of Visit South Bend Mishawaka.

South Bend has also received national attention for its football experience. USA Today recently recognized the city as one of 15 finalists for best college football town in America.

Now, football fans are expected to keep that momentum going with a big rivalry game weekend just days away. Out-of-town fans are putting money into the local economy from the moment they reach the toll road exit.

"When they are coming into town, we are the first two hotels that they see," said Brooke Gallagher, general manager at the Hilton Garden Inn. " So, it is a huge benefit for us to be right off that toll road."

At hotels like the Hilton Garden Inn, it is all about location. The vicinity to colleges makes it a go-to spot for football fans.

"This weekend in particular, they are getting here early and they are going to do everything from the pep rally to the drum circle, to everything they can do until the end of the game," Gallagher said. "We already have guests arriving for the weekend."

DeCleene said that getting visitors to experience other aspects of South Bend during the stay is key to getting them to return.

"It's recognizing the notoriety we might gain from something like a game, but then getting the word out about all the other things in our community," he said.

Restaurants throughout the city are preparing for an influx of people. Rocco's is gearing up by having extra staff, and dough, on hand.

"Our vendors know that I'll probably be calling them a couple extra times through the week," said Rocky Verteramo, owner.

But, a night game means that some restaurants may lose out on some of their dinner crowd. Eateries like café Navarre are opening up an hour earlier Saturday to accommodate fans.

Verteramo said that Rocco's is open until 1 a.m. during football season, so they hope to get a post-game crowd.

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