MARIA STEIN — The Ohio tourism business is a $38 billion industry, according to Director of Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism Amir Eylon.
“Tourism is a big business in the state of Ohio,” Eylon said Thursday afternoon at the 25th Anniversary Auglaize and Mercer Counties Convention and Visitors Bureau Annual Awards Luncheon. “In 2010, visitors spent $25 billion, they generated $38 billion in total sales. Employment wise, they sustained 439,000 full-time equivalent jobs and they generated $2.5 billion in state and local tax revenue.”
The industry, he noted, relies on partnerships.
“It takes partnership,” Eylon said. “I don’t have cash registers, I don’t have turnstiles, I can’t sell tickets myself. We have to collaborate. We have to work together as a community.”
He applauded the partnership of Auglaize and Mercer counties.
“I like Auglaize and Mercer counties a lot because you are a great example of regional collaboration,” Eylon said.
“You are still the only Convention and Visitors Bureau in the state that covers two counties ... I think that’s incredible.”
Eylon said with the rising prices of gas and the desire to get as much as possible for every dollar spent, Ohio stands out as a good travel destination.
“We’re full of the product that people are looking for right now,” he said, noting that Ohio is within a one-day drive of 60 percent of the population and is home to a variety of parks and tourist attractions.
Eylon also noted tourists’ desire to explore historical sites.
“Folks started looking more for our heritage and our history and our culture,” he said, noting locally the area has the Bicycle Museum of America and Fort Recovery among other attractions. “Ohio is not Disney. We’re not Disneyfied, and that’s a very good thing for us right now. We have a lot of great stories to tell.”
To continue to promote tourism in the area, Elyon encouraged attendees to have a brand.
“Look at how this curb appeal that you already have can become your brand, your image,” he said. “You’ve done this well in some of these small towns by having a certain look and a certain feel — whether it’s a German theme or nice brickwork. Every business should become a part of that brand in some form or fashion.”
He also noted the importance of keeping up with technology.
“You’ve got to show your mobility,” Eylon said. “Everybody’s getting around with these mobile devices now. From a tourism perspective, that’s critical.”
Approximately 23 percent of tourism transactions were made on a mobile device, Eylon said, noting the importance of having a mobile website. He also encouraged packaging a product or service and forming partnerships.
“Form a new partnership,” he said. “Find a new way to do business together because partnership really does lead to success.”
Eylon encouraged attendees to bring retreats, trade show meetings or board meetings to Auglaize or Mercer counties and to make a difference, the theme his office has taken on for the year.
“For 2012, our theme is make a difference,” Eylon said. “In tourism, we do make a difference.”
Tourism, he said, does three things: Help an area’s economy, promotes economic development and helps generate pride in a community.
Auglaize and Mercer Counties Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Donna Grube attributed big steps being taken this year to the marketing committee, which had a magazine-sized visitor’s guide printed for the first time and attended the Cincinnati Boat Show. The board also pushed for a new website, SeeMore.org, and has plans to launch a mobile website later this year.
“I give a lot of credit to my board and the marketing committee,” Grube said.
“This past fall when we were doing our budgeting, the marketing committee said, ‘You know, things are better at the lake, they’ve got that sign at the Armstrong Museum that will bring people in. We need to go for it. We need to make plans to bring people back. We need to tell our story that things are turning around and it’s good in Auglaize and Mercer counties.’”
She noted that after a 23 percent drop in income in 2010, Auglaize and Mercer counties saw a 1 percent increase in 2011.
“So, 2011 was not so bad, not so great,” Grube said. “We’re hoping 2012 will grow from there.”
At the luncheon, three awards were also presented: The Past President’s Award was presented to Pam Buschur, the Stahr Award was presented to the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commision and the Ambassador Award was presented to Julie Miller.