Travel writers get tour of Indianapolis

Convention participants wait to board a bus.
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It's far from the city's biggest convention, but Visit Indy considers it one of the most important.

This week Indianapolis is hosting the Society of American Travel Writers, having beat out several other locales, including the Caribbean.

At 250 people, it's a relatively small group. But they have the potential to reach millions of tourists through their travel pieces and Visit Indy is making sure they leave with a good impression.

The group is being wined and dined and given guided tours of the city's best known attractions and its least known. Some of the destinations include the Trader's Point Creamery, a tour of the catacombs at City Market, the chance to canoe the White River and tour Gilchrist and Soames, which makes luxury lotions, soaps and other toiletries.

Getting them here was a bit of a push with England, New Zealand and Switzerland the site of previous conventions.

As Spud Hilton, with the San Francisco Chronicle said, "When I told people I was coming here for a convention, a lot of them said, 'Really, Indianapolis? I mean, you know...and I said I'd read a lot of good things about it and wanted to check it out."

Hilton and others said they've found a lot of things to like about the Circle City, like all the outdoor activities and "the new things going on (downtown) as well as the history and culture that continues despite the renovation."

Annette Thompson is a freelancer based in Alabama. 

"I'm in love with the town!" she said. "I've had a few opportunities to wander around. I went over to White River State Park and ran through the Cultural district and downtown and it makes me want to come back and do more."

Betsa Marsh, president of the SATW, said, "I love the quirky stuff and there's so much of it."

She mentioned the "chocolate massage" at a local spa, the Slippery Noodle and the city's history with gangster John Dillinger and writer, Kurt Vonnegut.

Anne Banas, with Smarter Travel, said, "One of the things I love is food." She said she was impressed with the number of independent, locally-owned restaurants and how many are embracing the slow-food and farm-to-table movement.

"When people travel one of the first things they care about is food," She said. "They want to go to great restaurants and see local wineries or farms."

While the writers found plenty to enjoy here, they also said to make the transition from convention city to tourist destination, Indianapolis has to a bit more.

"You could use a stronger counter-culture type of neighborhood," said Hilton. "I got a glimpse of that in Fountain Square. Once you build something for the locals that hip and wonderful, the tourists will go there too because they want a level of sophistication that's beyond, yes, we have monuments and yes, we have museums."

Banas agreed, saying downtown also needed more residents.

"If you want a vibrant downtown you need more people living in the city and bringing nightlife and culture vibes of 'here's where the locals are' and if the locals want to be here, the tourists do as well," she said.

Visit Indy hopes the travel writers will deliver some good press, just like the Super Bowl did.

Asked how they might begin their travel stories, Thompson said, "The fastest city in America to win your heart."

"Small cities can surprise you," said Banas.

As for Hilton, "I know I'll go back and people will still say, "Indianapolis, really?" and I'll say you have to see it to find out for yourself."

That's exactly what Visit Indy hopes they'll do.