If state tourism leaders want to spur their industry, they must find ways to persuade visitors to turn day trips into overnights and get Ohioans to show pride in the state, according to analysts who presented at Ohio's first tourism symposium. About 100 state agency leaders, business and attraction owners and local tourism board members were given those tips at the TourismOhio symposium, which focused on determining where Ohio's tourism industry stands and devising strategies to improve it. Development Services Agency Director David Goodman and TourismOhio Director Mary Cusick shared their vision for the future of state tourism with attendees, saying it's been their goal since joining the department to collaborate with stakeholders from across the state to create a comprehensive action plan to bolster the $30-billion-per-year industry.
Ms. Cusick said the state is currently using a two-pronged approach to attract visitors by promoting the state to nonresidents as well as to those who live in Ohio and who may have tourist-worthy activities right in their backyards. "We know the number one way people come to Ohio is because a friend or family member recommended it to them," Ms. Cusick said in an interview. "We want to build on that pride but we also want to come up with a plan so we have a strong enough message to take it outside our state and encourage people to come to Ohio."
Rick Cain, vice president of Longwoods International, a market research firm, said Ohio scores well as a travel destination among respondents who have visited before. However, there is some work to be done in improving the perception of those who've never been to the state, he said. An image study showed that many say Ohio's amusement parks, waterparks and child-friendly activities set it apart from other states as a vacation spot, but few of those surveyed rated the state for being an "adventurous" or "unique" get away. The majority - about 81% - of last year's visitors stayed just for the day, Mr. Cain said, noting that the statistic isn't consistent with most states, which can attribute about 60% of their tourism to day trippers.
That figure is one area where Ohio does not want to lead the pack because 2013 statistics show those who visited Ohio for the day spent an average of $110, while those who stayed the night spent an average of $335, said Chris Pike, director of Tourism Economics. The number of those who stayed one or more nights remained steady from 2012 to 2013. It's important for the tourism industry to do well because it has a positive impact on the rest of the state and even on those other industries that aren't directly related to tourism, which took in about $38 million in 2013 thanks to spending by visitor-focused companies, Mr. Pike said. He added that tourism generated about $1.8 billion in state taxes and about $1.2 billion in local taxes in 2013.
"We're Ohioans, so I guess it's in our nature to be humble," Director Goodman told the audience. "It's hard for us to tell people how wonderful we actually are, but we have to start doing that and we're going to support that effort at the Development Services Agency and we're going to give you the bandwidth so you can go out and talk about your individual world-class opportunities for fun and excitement to the rest of the world so they can come and visit and love Ohio exactly the way that we do."