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Ohio tourism officials report $3B gain

Number of visitors to state sets record

Ohio-tourism

Tourism spending has grown by more than $3 billion after taking a steep dive in 2009. However, the regional breakdown for the Lake Erie shoreline counties won't be released for three more weeks.

THE BLADE
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PUT-IN-BAY -- Ohio tourism officials had good news Wednesday for other state agency officials: Tourism spending has grown by more than $3 billion after taking a steep dive in 2009, with the number of visitors traveling in the Buckeye State setting a new record.

A regional breakdown for the Lake Erie shoreline counties and other areas of Ohio won't be released for three more weeks, but the overall state numbers are giving those involved with the industry something to smile about.

"The numbers are up statewide, so for the Lake Erie region, things will most likely look positive as well," said Pat Barker, assistant tourism director for the Ohio Office of Tourism. "The good news is, in '10 and '11, things have grown dramatically."

As the featured speaker, Ms. Barker shared the numbers with a group of about 30 at the Ohio Lake Erie Commission's quarterly meeting Wednesday, held at the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island. Ohio visitor spending increased 6.5 percent in 2011, reaching $26.3 billion, according to statistics released from the Ohio Department of Development's Tourism Division.

In 2009, visitor spending tanked to a low of about $23 billion, but started its rebound in 2010 with $24.7 billion in spending. And visitors traveling in the state last year reached 181.5 million people -- a new high.

Visitors generated $40 billion in total business sales across the state in 2011 -- up $2 billion from 2010 -- which includes spending on hotel stays, retail, restaurants, and amusement parks and other recreational activities, according to the statistics.

That figure includes the $26.3 billion in direct spending, as well as indirect spending -- for example, if sales are up, motels increase their spending on supplies for rooms, said Tammy Brown, spokesman for the Ohio Office of Tourism.

A key to feeding the tourism industry, Ms. Barker said, is to encourage overnight stays, as opposed to day travelers, which the state saw a lot of when consumers didn't have as much money to spend a few years ago. "Our goal is you spend a weekend -- not just a night -- a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; a Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday," Ms. Barker told the group.

Visitors who stay overnight somewhere spend $305 a day, she said, as opposed to those who take day trips and spend only an average of $104.

Though detailed regional numbers are almost a month from being released, some tourism officials are seeing promise for the 2012 season.

"So far this year, things are looking like it's going to be a year that exceeds last year," said Larry Fletcher, executive director of the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau.

"We had a really strong start to the season. We had birding going on earlier than normal; fishing going on earlier than normal -- just people wanting to get out on the lake on a boat."

Mr. Fletcher said during a poll conducted over the Memorial Day weekend, some lodging owners reported a 10-30 percent increase in advanced booking for this season over last.

The Lake Erie shoreline counties, which include Ottawa, Lucas, Erie, Asthtabula, Cuyahoga, Lake, and Lorain, contribute a big portion of tourism spending -- $10 billion of it in 2009.

A looming issue that appears to be having an undefined impact on the Lake Erie region is that of algae in Lake Erie's western basin that has increased in recent years. The algae has increased, in part, because of high concentrations of phosphorus entering the lake when rainwater washes fertilizer, manure, and sewage into tributaries.

Karl Gebhardt, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who attended the meeting, said that some of a $3 million allocation in a midbudget review bill sponsored by state Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) will be used this summer to identify farmers who will work with the agencies after the wheat planting season in July.

Sandy Bihn, director of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, a Toledo-based environmental group and member of the Lake Erie Improvement Association based in Oregon, was happy to hear about the $3 million allocation, and implored the Lake Erie Commission to pay close attention to how land practices and tributary outfalls are changing the lake.

"We want to make sure what's being done on land is resulting in improvements for the lake," Ms. Bihn said.

Contact Roberta Redfern at: rredfern@theblade.com or 419-724-6081.

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