OAK HARBOR, Ohio — Bird-watching is big business in northwest Ohio.
The 2014 Biggest Week in American Birding event — which runs through Thursday — is expected to generate more revenue than last year’s estimated $20 million to $30 million, northwest Ohio tourism officials said. And although the bird base is largely concentrated in Ottawa County, business is booming in the Toledo area, too.
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Many hotels throughout Lucas and Ottawa counties are reporting that they are at full capacity, and many other businesses, such as restaurants and gas stations, are noticing increased traffic as thousands of people over the past week began flocking to the area to bird-watch at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory along State Rt. 2.
More than 60,000 people — from 46 states and 13 countries — attended the 2013 event.
“We’re pretty much booked to capacity until the 20th of this month,” said Louis Hernandez, sales and marketing director for Baymont Inn & Suites, 6425 Kit Lane, Maumee. “We’re drawing pretty good business.” The hotel has 76 rooms, but in past years business had been slow until June, Mr. Hernandez said. The hotel decided to join Destination Toledo Inc. in promoting this year’s bird event, even though the hotel is about an hour away from the bird-watching location.
Cathy Miller, director of tourism for Destination Toledo, said the visitors bureau is taking a more regional marketing approach to the event.
In addition to taking out a full-page ad on the back cover of Food & Travel Magazine to promote Toledo, officials hosted an opening night get-together for bird-watchers and encouraged them to see what else Toledo has to offer, including the National Museum of the Great Lakes and the Art of the Louvre Tuileries exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art.
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The bird-watching event was spearheaded five years ago by Kenn Kaufman, a world renowned bird expert, and his wife, Kimberly Kaufman, director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
“It quietly grew,” Ms. Miller said.
“The more we get in front of these people and let them know about the Mud Hens, the zoo, and other fun things to do in Toledo, the more visitors we’ll have who’ll buy gas, eat at restaurants, and seek out entertainment,” she said.
For the lucky few bird-watchers who reserve rooms at Our Sunset Place in Ottawa County’s Catawba Island Township, there are fewer places better to stay, said Larry Fletcher, director of Shores and Islands West areas visitors bureau. The four-room bed and breakfast sits on the northwest shore of Lake Erie.
“When the bird-watchers come home they can sit on the deck and see woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles, and a lot of different birds,” said Sandy Erwin, who co-owns the establishment with husband Bart Erwin. “We have a lot of returnees; some of them reserve before they leave.
“I can say that birding is a very good friend of mine.”
Mrs. Erwin said many of the bird-watchers who flock to the area are retirees who tend to have a “little more income to spend.”
A lot of communities in Ottawa County do their best to meet the needs of the visitors, tourism leaders said.
“A lot of businesses know this is an audience that gets up early in the morning and stays out there all day,” Mr. Fletcher said. “They serve extra-early breakfast and sell boxed lunches.”
Businesses along Perry Street, Port Clinton’s main thoroughfare, roll out the red carpet by displaying various signs welcoming bird-watchers.
The most visible is the “Welcome Bird Watchers” greeting on a large, lighted neon sign in front of Friendship Food Stores’ Marathon gas station at 1810 E. Perry St.
“This is a wonderful event,” owner Brian Beck said. “It’s great to see people come from all over the country. Any event helps; many people stay for the duration, filling hotels, eating at restaurants, filling up at gas stations.”
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