YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Local tourism agencies say their efforts to attract people from outside the region are creating jobs, bringing in revenue and playing a role in convincing folks to move here.
Directors of tourism agencies in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Lawrence and Mercer counties say they are drawing visitors from several states.
Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention & Visitors Bureau, says marketing revolves around its website, YoungstownLive.com, and social media channels, as well as print and digital advertising.
“Our goal is to attract people from outside Mahoning County,” Macala says. “We want them to visit and hopefully spend the night in our hotels, visit our attractions, attend a special event, dine in our restaurants and shop in our stores. All of this generates visitor spending dollars, which is new money coming into our community.”
The agency gets the word out with travel guides and communication with bus groups and youth sports tournaments. While data showing where visitors came from are mostly unavailable, the Wines of the Valley Wine Trail from several years ago showed roughly 65% of participants did not reside in the county, says Macala.
The bureau’s 2019 report, which is the most recent one available, shows that tourism generated $561.7 million in direct economic impact, Macala says. This includes hotel bookings, golfing, event tickets and admission prices.
“That does not include the indirect impact – like a hotel purchasing goods and services to conduct business, or the induced effect – when those hotel employees get paid and spend their dollars locally in our community,” Macala says. “Including all of that takes the total [impact] up to $852.2 million.”
Macala says the report shows tourism and tourism-related industries additionally supported over 6,700 community jobs.
Beth Kotwis Carmichael, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, says her agency uses several methods to promote tourism. For the local audience, she says she believes email marketing and social media drive the biggest numbers to the bureau’s website, ExploreTrumbullCounty.com.
“Our goal and our mission is always to bring and drive more visitor traffic to Trumbull County,” Carmichael says. “In the last two years, we put a percentage of our budget in local marketing, but the nice thing when we do social and digital [marketing] is that we can shift that marketing pretty quickly.”
Carmichael says the Trumbull bureau has pivoted to marketing to a local audience as well. Because of COVID and rising gas prices, people are now staying closer to home, she says.
“We want our residents to be excited about all the cool things to see and do,” Carmichael says.
Longtime residents often believe they have already seen and done everything that’s available to them, she continues. One of the goals of the Trumbull bureau is to “challenge” this idea.
“[One objective is] talking to our locals and letting them know that there are still a lot of great places to check out and that they don’t have to go very far in which to do that,” Carmichael says.
While they do like to reach local residents, she says about 85-90% of the bureau’s marketing dollars go outside of the area.
“It was national tourism week a couple of weeks ago and we talked about the economic impact of tourism in Trumbull County, which is $550 million,” she says. “First and foremost, there is a significant economic impact. For the limited budget that we have, we drive home a lot of spending here in Trumbull County.”
In the 2019-20 season, the bureau generated $194 for each dollar spent on marketing, according to Carmichael. Each dollar spent on the visitors guide generated $9 in spending.
Trumbull marketing efforts target a 250-mile radius from the county, Carmichael says. This includes Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Akron.
“We did a visitor profile study and we found that the No. 1 visitation to Trumbull County was actually coming from Columbus,” says Carmichael. “That surprised us. In the four years since I’ve been here, that has shifted to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, then Columbus.”
Trumbull County is home to the nation’s fourth largest Amish community, which Carmichael says is a major attraction. Shopping, tourism trails, Mosquito Lake and overnight experiences are other drivers of tourism.
Bryce Miner, president of the Columbiana Area Tourism Bureau, says his agency is dedicated to preserving the area’s unique heritage and promotes growth. It hosts two main events each year: the Columbiana Wine Fest at Firestone Farms and the Joy of Christmas Light Show.
“We market our events that we host and we also showcase other events in Columbiana, like the street fair, Fourth of July fireworks shows and other things that are going on in town to help our businesses succeed and showcase the town,” says Miner.
The Columbiana bureau also supports community development, Miner says. It helped the Columbiana Cultural Collective acquire the Main Street Theater and raised awareness for the construction of a dog park in Firestone Park.
“Columbiana has been blessed with several new businesses coming to town and a lot of growth,” says Miner. “If we can show somebody all we have to offer and showcase the town, then maybe we can encourage people to move here and eventually call this place home like we do.”
Peggy Mazyck, president and CEO of Visit Mercer County PA, says her organization’s mission is to present Mercer County as a destination and reach people from outside the area.
“A huge amount of what we do is digital,” she says. “Those things also reach our local market.”
Mazyck says her agency spends $500,000 annually on marketing.
“Our main markets are Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Erie, southern Ontario, Canada, and western New York,” Mazyck says. “Our main focus is to bring people to Mercer County. But Mercer County residents are also seeing the messages.”
Grove City Premium Outlets is a major attraction, drawing about six million people yearly, Mazyck says. Golf courses, wineries and breweries, romantic getaways, family activities and outdoor adventures are also popular.
“The main thing is to generate income, tax revenue and economic impact in Mercer County,” Mazyck says. “Anytime you are spending, it helps with jobs – it helps to keep the jobs in the county. That helps to keep the businesses open and that also helps with tax revenue.”
Janet Falotico, executive director of Visit Lawrence County Pennsylvania, says about 75% of promotion is done outside of the county and 25% locally. About 40,000 visitor guides are printed and sent out yearly, complementing its website. The guides are distributed nationally and within Canada.
Co-op advertising is another method Falotico’s agency uses.
“We just did a campaign for national travel and tourism week,” she says. “We did a $100 gift card drawing per day and gave it away to someone in our community to go and visit their county. The other counties were doing the same thing and in return sending them to our county.”
Social media has been essential to attracting locals, says Falotico.
In the prepandemic year of 2019, tourism in Lawrence County accounted for $133.2 million in direct sales, Falotico says.
“That is a chunk of change that comes into your county just in direct tourism,” Falotico says. “It always amazes me how well things do.”
Falotico says the bureau also places advertisements in larger tourism guides, like Visit Pittsburgh.
“When those go internationally, we go with them,” Falotico says.
International travelers often come to see the Amish lifestyle. Lawrence County is home to Pennsylvania’s second largest Amish community.
“The return is outrageous when it comes to tourism, as compared to any other business,” Falotico says.
Pictured at top: The bongo canopy zip-line adventure courses at Keystone Safari attract visitors. Photo courtesy of Visit Mercer County PA.