Local Tourism Increases

MINSTER — After a 25 percent dip in tourism because of lake issues in 2009 and 2010, the Auglaize and Mercer Counties Convention and Visitors Bureau celebrated an 8 percent increase in 2012 tourism, improving on the previous year’s 1 percent gain.

The CVB held its annual awards luncheon, which included special speaker Kathleen Phipps talking on Scenic Stops, a local television show bringing attention to sites and people around Ohio.

The group also awarded local committees and business leaders during Thursday’s meeting at the Wooden Shoe in Minster.

The luncheon, Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce Director Scott Frey told attendees, was themed around scenic stops in order to remind people not to take for granted what was in their own backyard. Like people who live near the Grand Canyon and don’t see the attraction of the landmark, he said Auglaize and Mercer locals can forget what the area offers.

Phipps elaborated on that point by discussing the variety of people and places she’d experienced while filming the show Scenic Stops, an episode of which featured the Miami and Erie Canal and Armstrong Air & Space Museum, and aired in 19 counties across Ohio.

From farmers to tattoo artists to taxidermists, from museums to wine tastings to digging for fossils, she described northwest Ohio as rich in history and entertainment. She also showed segments of the show that featured locals.

CVB Director Donna Grube presented a local tourism report, showing total 2012 area tourism income at $44.5 million. The number is based on hotel stays in the area, which one of few measurable indicators in the tourism industry.

The lake, she said, is shedding the bad reputation from the algae problem that caused a drop in local income, and is gaining a reputation for incredible fishing.

“There’s a real positive buzz,” she said.

She explained that while estimates about the amount of money made from tourism sound high for gas and automotive expenses, the number also includes people who have expensive repairs or cars in accidents.

Grube said that beyond the growth in tourism, the bureau itself has made gains, launching a website that won two industry awards. Also, it’s the first year the organization printed the larger glossy visitors and tourism guides.

“We have a lot to promote,” Grube said. “Things are going well.”

Doug Moran, a past president for the CVB, presented the Stahr Award to the Minster Oktoberfest Committee. The award, intended to honor contributions to development and promotion of tourism, was awarded to the Oktoberfest Committee for its 35 years of continual success in hosting an event that brings tens of thousands of people to the area, Moran said.

“And what’s not to love? Polka music, lederhosen, cabbage rolls, doing the chicken dance and plenty of cold German beverages,” he said.

The Ambassador Award, given to recognize an individual’s contribution to the tourism industry, was presented to Celina/Mercer County Chamber of Commerce Director Pam Buschur. Buschur was honored for serving on numerous committees, but also for serving at events throughout the area, and even not being afraid to get her hands dirty by judging the area carp competition.

“(She) feels it’s important to not just ‘talk the talk,’ but also to ‘walk the walk,’” CVB President Brian Miller said.

Tourism, the CVB reported, supported 2,225 jobs locally in 2012, and has contributed $220.8 million to the Mercer and Auglaize counties’ economies in the last five years.