Western Iowa Tourism

Erika Newton, president of the Western Iowa Tourism Region, talks during the group's annual meeting at the Sioux City Convention Center Wednesday. Newton is the executive director of Sioux City's Events Facilities Department.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | State budget cuts could make spreading the word about tourist attractions in western Iowa more challenging, local tourism officials heard Wednesday.

Lawmakers reduced spending for the Iowa Tourism Office by 13.6 percent, or more than $2 million, from $15.5 million this year to $13.4 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"At the Iowa Tourism Office, the way we'll absorb our share of the cuts is we'll reduce our marketing and advertising," Iowa Tourism Office manager Shawna Lode said. There will also be some staffing cuts as well as cuts to grants provided by the office. 

Sioux City tourism shouldn't take too much of a hit from the state funding shortfall, though it will impact regional tourism organizations, said Erika Newton, the executive director of Sioux City's events and facilities department, and the president of Western Iowa Tourism.

"The state budget cut won't affect us too significantly," Newton said of the city.

The city will continue to actively promote Sioux City online as well as in print, she said.

Lode, who spoke Wednesday at Western Iowa Tourism's annual meeting Wednesday at the Sioux City Convention Center, said the expenditures are a key component to attracting out-of-state visitors, she said.

"We know this from research that we've done -- people don't consider Iowa as a travel destination," Lode said. "They just don't know what we've got to offer."

So, the Tourism Office is working on creative ways to market the state, and to meet prospective tourists where they are. This week, the agency brought in a group of famous Instagram users to promote Iowa. 

"This week is the first time that we're hosting what we're calling an 'Insta-fam,' so it's a familiarization tour, it's bringing people into Iowa who aren't familiar with our state, and helping them experience some specific places," Lode said. "And in exchange for our hosting them, they're required to post on their own Instagram channels using our hashtag."

Promoting the state on Instagram, Lode said, is worth a shot. 

"We know that people are getting their travel ideas more and more on social media," she said.

"Iowans are very humble people, we don't like to brag," Lode said. "And for the purposes of tourism marketing, we need to tell our story -- we need to tell why our communities are great."

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