Objectively, they are little more than slips of paper with some ink.
But for businesses that rely heavily on disposable income - especially that which flows from visitors to local attractions - coupons that lure customers through the gate can mean the difference between economic survival and suffering.
"You have to do it nowadays, with it being so competitive and with how the economy is," said Judy Overhouse, general manager of Bedford Hills Golf Club in Temperance, which has turned to coupon discounts aggressively.
"Right now, we're even honoring competitors' coupons."
After more than 14 years in decline, coupon use among consumers has leveled off and appears to be increasing, according to analysts at NCH Marketing Services Inc., of Deerfield, Ill., which tracks coupon use in several industries.
For those whose summer recreation plans may have been curtailed by skyrocketing fuel and food prices, newly instituted coupon discounts for local attractions may put some fun back in summer.
Businesses on Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay are aggressively using coupons and online discounts to encourage tourists to visit and stay on the islands.
Although it's early in the season, island retailers say they are counting on day-trip traffic from the mainland to make up for the potential loss of power-boaters docked by rocketing fuel prices.
Tailfins Amusement Park is a three-acre entertainment complex in the village of Put-in-Bay that opened a year ago. Co-owner Lisa Neff said she has relied heavily on coupons both to introduce her facility to customers and to keep existing ones coming back.
"With a brand-new business, a lot of people don't know we're here," Ms. Neff said. Her facility boasts bumper boats and go-carts, an arcade, and miniature golf, and she prints coupon discounts wherever she can. "Even our business cards have coupons on the back," she said.
Coupons are making a comeback on the Lake Erie Islands. Jet Express, which is observing its 20th anniversary this year, is distributing a sheet of coupons that include discounts on lodging, vouchers for free food, and rental discounts on the island.
"You feel the pinch everywhere you turn, whether it's at the gas station or the grocery store," said Lance Woodworth, director of operations for Jet Express, one of two ferry operators to the islands.
The coupons for island businesses are intended to convince customers they can still afford an island vacation. So far, Mr. Woodworth said, they've been well received by his passengers.
"We know your disposable income is getting pinched; this says, 'Let us help you out so that you can still get your vacation in,'•" Mr. Woodworth said.
Nearby Cedar Point had barely begun its summer season last month when it began offering steep discounts, coupons, and other promotions to attract customers. In addition to mailing out coupons for $8 off the price of admission, Cedar Point is offering steep "virtual coupon" discounts for tickets purchased online through Sunday.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: