Attractions Bring in Tourists by the Busload 

YOUNGSTOWN – A dinner theater and other attractions are making the city of Columbiana a destination for tour buses.

The theater, located in the Best Western Plus Dutch Haus Inn and Suites on state Route 14, began targeting bus tours a couple years ago.

Rose Conrad, directing of marketing and sales, says she has booked 23 buses so far this year – tying last year’s total – and expects to book more, especially during the holiday season.

Actors are dressed in clothing from the days of the Roman Empire in the murder-mystery production of “All Roads Lead to Murder” last year at the Dutch Haus Inn and Suites dinner theater in Columbiana.

The financial boost the day trippers bring spills over to the other places they visit, she notes. 

A typical itinerary includes a show and a meal in the hotel’s banquet room. Afterward, the visitors will stop at one or two other sites for shopping, sightseeing or drinks.

With the resurgence of travel after the pandemic, Conrad began reaching out to tour operators. Previously, the dinner theater’s audience was primarily local residents and senior citizens groups.

 “We’re starting to see our efforts having success,” she says.

Most of the bus tours arrive before noon and depart that evening. The guests typically take in a matinee performance and a buffet luncheon, or dinner and an evening performance.

They will round out the day shopping for antiques, visiting a winery or brewery or exploring another attraction.

Some tour bus operators offer overnight  packages, but those tend to be in December and feature a Christmas show and a trip to the drive-thru holiday lights display at Firestone Park.

Each bus brings 50 to 56 patrons, and Conrad says some shows lure more than one busload. She has already booked three for the Tuika’s Polynesian Show on Aug. 21.

“I call [the tour bus operators] ‘super consumers,’” Conrad says. “You make one sale and get 50 people.”

The Dutch Haus Inn’s theater, on the lower level of the hotel, has a capacity of 186, with attendees seated at round tables with linen tablecloths. The meals are catered by Youngstown-based chef Christopher Bonacci.

Conrad provides tour bus operators with a list of other nearby attractions that they can choose from when putting together their itinerary.

These sites include downtown Columbiana, with its unique specialty stores and antique shops; Firestone Farms Town Centre; the Joy of Christmas drive-thru light display at Firestone Park; the park’s legacy walking trail; the adjacent Das Dutch Village shops and restaurant; the Log House Museum; Lamppost Farms; White House Fruit Farm; and The Vineyards at Pine Lake winery.

Fellows Riverside Gardens and the Arms Family Museum, both in Youngstown, are also options.

Elvis impersonator Mike Albert walks into the seating area to talk with an audience member during the “Memories of Elvis” show last year.

The Dutch Haus dinner-theater season will begin March 22, with “Memories of Elvis” shows at noon and 7 p.m.

Before the pandemic, the hotel contracted out its shows to a Christian theater group. But it has since switched formats and now offers musical tribute acts, like Elvis and Sinatra; murder-mystery events; and special events like the Polynesian fire dancing show.

Conrad selects the shows with a goal of pleasing an audience that consists mainly of senior citizens and baby boomers.

“They love to travel in groups, and they love our tribute shows,” she says. “They hear the songs they loved when they were young.”

The “Memories of Elvis” show is a particular crowd-pleaser, she notes, and includes a lot of interaction between Elvis impersonator Mike Albert and the crowd.


At least seven tour bus operators, who are mainly from the Pittsburgh area and West Virginia, bring groups to Das Dutch Haus. One of them, Passport to Pittsburgh, is among the hotel’s best customers, with four trips scheduled so far this year.

Kim Adley, president of the Pittsburgh-based company, says her goal is to create a unique and manageable day trip, and Columbiana fills that bill.

When the noon matinee ends, the next stop on her itinerary is usually the Dutch Village shops, restaurant and bakery.

“After that, it’s White House Fruit Farm or a winery,” Adley says.

In December, Passport to Pittsburgh had a holiday season tour to Columbiana. “We did the whole Hallmark Town experience, with the [drive-thru] light display at Firestone Park. It’s a very nice park, and the tour makes two stops, one to meet Santa and have cocoa and the other for a gingerbread house contest.”

Columbiana was recently named one of 25 Hallmark Christmas Towns nationwide by The Hallmark Channel.

The town seems to be a hit with Passport’s regular customers.

“Ever since Covid, they want experiences,” Adley says. “We throw in some shopping too, but what they really want are unique things to eat and enjoy, and interactive experiences. I try to give them a full day.”

Most people on her buses are at least 55 years old. 

“They are mostly retired, and want to get out, have an experience, and not have to drive,” she continues. ‘They want to learn something, have fun, eat quality food and be entertained. [The Dutch Haus] has achieved that equation.”

Some tour buses also stop in downtown Columbiana for afternoon shopping at the many antique, décor and curio shops, says Columbiana Area Tourism Board member Carrie Holsinger. Others prefer to have a cold craft beer at Birdfish Brewing.

Holsinger is also the administrative coordinator at Firestone Farms Town Centre – another popular stop for tour buses.


While the Dutch Haus Inn and restaurant are in the city of Columbiana, they are not in Columbiana County. The hotel property is in the small section of the city that is in Mahoning County.

Tara Mady of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau, works with the theater’s Conrad and tour bus operators to entertain visitors after the show.

“The dinner theater has been a good anchor,” Mady says.

Since the pandemic ended, she has been pitching Youngstown’s Christmas [attractions] to bus operators and they’ve proven popular.

Topping the list is the Arms Family Museum’s Memories of Christmas Past exhibit, which takes place every year from mid-November to New Year’s Eve.

 “People from Cleveland and Pittsburgh have never seen anything like it,” Mady says. “They will go there and then the [Festival of Trees] at Fellows Riverside Gardens, then to Columbiana for dinner theater and the Joy of Christmas light display.”

One bus operator, Great Day Tours out of Cleveland, “has been sending bus after bus to the Arms,” she says. “The seniors don’t want to travel too far because of the weather and a few [busloads] stay overnight.”

Mady also helps coordinate tours that stop only in Youngstown. 

“The top attractions this past year were Fellows, Lanterman’s Mill and the Butler art museum,” she says. “I have a group of retirees from the University of Akron coming in April. They will start at the steel museum, and then go to the Butler and the Arms museum, and then to Mastropietro Winery [in Berlin Center].”

Now that the café at The Butler has reopened, groups can stop there for lunch, she notes.


Not all bus trips are interested in dinner theater.

The itinerary for tour buses in Trumbull County often includes visits to Amish country, a historical site or a museum.

The Trumbull County Tourism Bureau steers bus operators to Ridgeview Tours of Mesopotamia.

“They are our partner,” says Beth Carmichael, director of the bureau. 

Sharon Grover, president of Ridgeview, works with tour operators and even provides a guide service in which she boards the bus.

Carmichael has noticed a change in what visitors want. She agrees with Passport to Pittsburgh’s Adley, who says they want a unique experience.

“Prior to Covid… they were OK with the National Packard Museum, the Taylor-Upton House and Millionaire’s Row,” Carmichael says. “But baby boomers want a more upscale experience.”

One place Trumbull tourism pitches is Eastwood Mall. That would have seemed ridiculous years ago when malls were common and bustling. But today, Eastwood is one of the few malls that is expanding and not shrinking.

“Malls were a dime a dozen years ago but now they’re disappearing,” Carmichael says, noting that Eastwood will give gift bags to tour groups.

Carmichael steers bus operators to other sites in the county as well.

“Some want a farm-to-table experience, and we send them to Red Basket Farm in Kinsman,” she says. “Younger people are interested in winery tours because they don’t want to drink and drive.”

Ridgeview Tours’ Grover, who also serves international visitors, says many people have an enduring fascination with the Amish, and they are at the core of her most popular tours.

Her bestselling tour includes several sites in Cleveland and then heads to Trumbull County to visit the National Packard Museum, the End-of-the-Commons General Store in Mesopotamia, Eastwood Mall and an Amish wedding feast at an Amish home.

She also offers a tour that includes the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum, the National Packard Museum and the Taylor-Upton House in Warren; Jimmy’s Italian Specialties in Liberty; and the Grand Resort in Howland.

“We bring a lot of buses in,” she says. “We’ve booked 20 so far this year and it’s still early.”


The world’s fascination with the Amish also benefits Lawrence County, Pa., which has a sizable Amish population near New Wilmington.

Susan Hougelman, owner of Simple Life Tours in New Wilmington and Volant, Pa., has been driving visitors through the rolling countryside of northern Lawrence County’s Amish region for years.

“Although my business is primarily private tours, I do host 15 to 20 bus groups every year,” she says. “I am a step-on guide. They bring the bus and I create the itinerary, which sometimes includes a meal.”

Her usual choice is Ryders Restaurant on Pennsylvania state Route 18, which provides an Amish-style wedding feast.

Other tour buses – especially those with children on board – will head to the Grove City Outlets “and let the kids eat at the food court,” she says.

In addition to Amish country, the buses that Hougelman handles might also visit Wendell August Forge in Mercer, Pa.; the shops in Volant, Pa.; or Tara – A Country Inn in Clark, Pa.

“I am definitely seeing an increase in tour buses since the pandemic but we could be doing so many more,” Hougelman says. “The bus companies seem to love the tour here in New Wilmington and will usually rebook for the following year.”

Ginny Colella of Lawrence County’s tourism bureau agrees that bus tours are on the upswing since the pandemic ended.

“Before Covid, they weren’t much of a draw,” she says.

Her agency began sending its tourism literature to tour bus operators in the last few years and has gotten some interest in its non-Amish tours.

For one overnight bus tour, the itinerary includes the Grove City Outlets; Living Treasures Animal Park, the Historic Cascade Warner Theater and Museum, the Hoyt art museum, and the Scottish Rite Cathedral, all in New Castle; and the Slovenian Heritage Center in Enon Valley, Pa.

Pictured: Couples dance in front of the stage at a recent show at the Dutch Haus Inn dinner theater titled “Romance Baby… A Tribute to Frank Sinatra.”