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Pitching the region

From making empanadas in Crown Point to visiting the Indiana Dunes in Porter County, a group of tour operators from around the Midwest and as far away as California have been making the rounds in the region for a close-up look at what Northwest Indiana has to offer.

Ten different bus tour operators, who book bus tours around the country, said they have been in — or through — Northwest Indiana many times but had no idea just what the region has to offer. They had not previously stopped for more than gas or to grab a night’s sleep while en route elsewhere.

Officials from the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority are hopeful their three-day visit will change that.

The tour operators were part of two familiarization, or FAM, tours for attendees of the Heartland Travel Showcase in South Bend. The SSCVA presented a proposal to host and was selected as one of the FAM tour sites.

For three days the group toured by bus places like Albanese Candy Factory and Chicagoland Popcorn in Merrillville, Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, the Indiana Dunes Welcome Center in Porter, Friendship Botanic Gardens in Michigan City, Four Corners Winery in Valparaiso, The Museum at Lassen’s Resort in Cedar Lake and The Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John.

They also visited the Community Veterans Memorial and the Theatre a the Center, both in Munster, and stopped at long-time region staple Teibel’s Restaurant in Schererville, all led by Candace Nowak, the bureau’s housing manager.

On Tuesday, the group walked around historic downtown Crown Point and made empanadas at Provecho Latin Provisions. Crown Point Mayor Pete Land welcomed the group and encouraged them to explore the square and its unique offerings.

Carol Presley, with Carol’s VIP Adventures out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said she was impressed by the hospitality of the region. She said the different attractions knew the industry.

“They understand what tourism is all about,” Biggs said.

While making empanadas, Angie Bozeman, with Heritage Tours of Yoder, Kansas, said she has driven through the region before on the way to another location without realizing the variety of activities that would work well for tour groups.

“Our folks love hands-on things and make-and-take activities,” Bozeman said.

Sue and Don Biggs with Detroit Area Custom Holidays said they travel around the world with their tours and are always looking for new places and fun activities for their clients.

“It’s been a very good showcase of the variety of different things here,” Sue Biggs said.

Nikki Lopez, interim president and CEO of the SSCVA, said the most common thing they heard from attendees is that they had no idea these types of activities are present here. She said bureau is looking to expand on the group tours that come through region and showcasing what the region has to offer is part of that effort.

“The hope is to have a lot of bus tours. Being able to showcase that is just huge,” Lopez said.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com