by Whitney Riggs
The development, growth and progress Hamilton County has made in the last 20 years has not gone unnoticed by Laura Kelner.
She’s seen the cities incorporate roundabouts for safer, more accessible driving routes.
She’s been inspired by the completion of the 1,600-seat venue of the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts and the 400-acre sports complex of Grand Park.
Mostly though, she’s seen how these exciting happenings have given rise to the number of visitors. In 2015, tourism in Hamilton County rose by 11.9 percent from 2014.
“Hamilton County is growing by leaps and bounds,” Kelner said. “It’s an exciting time to be here.”
Kelner was hired as the new director of sales for Hamilton County Tourism in January, and she said with all the local hype, her new job title – as cliché as it sounds – is a dream job.
She replaces William Knox, who is now the director of Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield. Kelner, who raised her three kids in Carmel, will oversee a staff of five in the sales and sports authority department and will lead efforts to increase economic impact, demand for hotel rooms and meeting venues.
In other words, her goal is to put “heads in beds.”
“With the help of the sales department and sports authority, I plan to look for ways to maximize the business so we have full hotels all 12 months of the year,” she said.
Kelner’s resume suggests she’ll do just fine.
Besides previously working in hotel sales, she spent 14 years of her career at Visit Indy, holding the director of sales position before she left.
Her accomplishments include securing key accounts with the NCAA and bringing the Fire Department Instructors Conference International to Indianapolis. She also helped to grow the religious market segment and participated with Meeting Planners International and the American Society of Association Executives. She served on local organizing committees for several NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships and was a volunteer on the Indy 500 Festival Committee.
Brenda Myers, president/CEO of Hamilton County Tourism, said Kelner’s experience is an asset, considering her arrival comes at a time when the area is seeing growth in meeting and lodging facilities.
“She brings an understanding of the tourism industry and sees the potential to provide options to groups that want to meet here,” Myers said.
Kelner’s also starting to familiarize herself with the changes in tourism and sales in comparison to years ago, referring to the advances in technology and the way customers communicate.
The goal to create relationships and establish trust with buyers and vendors is the same, but it often happens differently, she said.
“Emailing, texting and less face-to face-interaction poses new challenges,” Kelner said. “The use of social media on the other hand, allows us to keep our product top of mind without being intrusive. It’s a balancing act.”
Aside from the job, Kelner enjoys spending time with her grown children and traveling with her husband, Rick. She also continues her connection with the Indiana Women in Need Foundation, a nonprofit she helped create in 2000. The organization assists women going through treatment for breast cancer by helping with daily needs – child care, gas cards and groceries and housekeeping.
Kelner spent 12 years helping to grow the organization following Visit Indy.
“I love that the foundation acts like the ‘neighbor next door’ to women enduring treatment by providing help with chores many of us have a hard time doing even on a good day,” she said.
Kelner remains close to the organization and helps plan its annual Pink Pajama Party each ear. She’s proud to say the organization just held its 13th fundraiser, which raised $61,000.