By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Since Mark Eckman took over as director of the Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wapello County has seen a rise in the amount of money travelers are spending when they come to the area.
The U.S. Travel Association releases an annual travel expenditures report, and in the 2012 version, which was released in late October 2013, Wapello County had a 6.7 percent increase in traveler spending over 2012. Overall, visitors who came from farther than 50 miles spent approximately $80.29 million in 2012, an increase of $5.01 million from 2011.
Eckman has proven that he is very knowledgeable when it comes to the travel industry, and he has been recognized by the National Tour Association (NTA) for his efforts.
In December, Eckman was notified that he was receiving recertification as a Certified Tour Professional. The NTA reviews the work experience, higher education, continuing education and travel industry involvement for those who apply for certification, and it was determined that Eckman was suitable to be recertified.
“It’s something that you have to do a certain amount of testing and staying up to date with education,” he said. “Once you show the professionalism and education, you just have to show you are staying up to date.”
Eckman is one of just six Iowans to be a Certified Tour Professional. That number is actually up from where it was when he first received classification in 2007, when he was just one of two Iowans who were certified.
In addition to being the director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Eckman has done a lot in the tourism industry around the state. He has served as secretary and president for the Iowa Destination Marketing Alliance, treasurer and vice president of the Central Iowa Tourism Region and as a member of several other tourism committees and conferences.
“The tourism industry involvement that I have done since being director [of the Convention and Visitors Bureau] is really what enabled me to complete that [recertification],” Eckman said.
As for the future of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Eckman said there are some plans brewing that could add a lot to the tourist experience in Ottumwa and the surrounding area. One plan they are currently focused on is working with the Bridge View Center to create a visitor center inside the facility.
According to Eckman, they want to maximize the amount of information available for local residents and travelers about the points of interest in the area. The visitor center would be open even if the Bridge View Center is closed so information about things to do is readily available for all visitors.
“It’s really all about building on the $80 million that is currently being received by travelers from outside of the area,” Eckman said. “If we can get a few more people to stop and take a little more time in the area ... we’ve accomplished our goal of trying to get more visitor spending.”
By increasing the time visitors spend in and around Ottumwa, more visitor dollars will be spent, further raising the dollars made by local businesses and boosting the tax revenue, according to Eckman.
With the excitement of the future plans of the Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the proven success of its director, the growth of the travel industry in the area should continue to rise.
— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh