While most of the attention locally was on the Annual Cleveland Boat Show, the Lake Erie Shores & Islands partnership scored big points for our area during the same time period at the AAA Columbus Travel Show.
“Wow” was the way local Tourism Director Larry Fletcher put it. “We had many enticing visuals to attract people’s attention, including a 20-foot by 40-foot backdrop,” said Fletcher. “We also had a lot of activities for kids and a wine tasting bar for adults. We had Cedar Point’s animatronics dinosaur, a Jack Sparrow look-alike, Snoopy, and a green screen that allowed people to have their image superimposed over a photo that made it look like they were holding up a big walleye.”
They also featured a “mini-beach” and the sand “was like a magnet … the kids and adults were in that sand almost every hour of each day of the show,” he said.
Because of the large presence, the Lake Erie Shores & Islands, which is comprised of the Sandusky/Erie County Visitors & Convention Bureau and Ottawa County Visitors Bureau, was also acknowledged as one of the major sponsors of the show, receiving a large amount of additional promotion both before and during the event, according to Fletcher. “I doubt that very many visitors to the show missed stopping by our booth area.”
While the Cleveland Boat Show has shrunk significantly because of the economic effects of the recession to boat and condominium sales, the travel industry continues to thrive, as demonstrated by a large attendance in Columbus.
Fletcher said most of the questions asked by attendees centered on three categories. First, questions came from folks who already have a “place at the lake” but discovered they didn’t know as much about the area as they thought. The second was people who have always wanted to visit our area but haven’t.
“From the reaction we saw, I think a lot of them will be planning a trip very soon,” said Fletcher. The third group was the folks who came up to the lake as a kid or made that trip to Cedar Point a while back but hadn’t been here in a while. “They too will probably be visiting sooner than later.”
I asked Larry how he would compare the enthusiasm of this show with others they participate in. “AAA and the company they hire to produce this show make it very fun for the visitors,” he said. “This is the show that is the most fun for me to work by far over any other show. There is a wide variety of exhibitors, but all travel and tourism related.”
Fletcher also pointed to the power of partnership in marketing the North Coast of Ohio. “We had 13 businesses, many of which compete head to head for visitor dollars, coming together to create an impact on that show floor that none of them could have made individually,” said Fletcher. “This resulted in the vast majority of show visitors into our booth area to learn about what there is to see and do in the region. Visitors to our booth area may have stopped in because they knew about Put-in-Bay and wanted to pick up the new Island Guide. In the process they learned about several other places they may want to visit, too, that they didn’t know existed before the show. This could turn a day trip into an overnight, or a weekend getaway into a week’s vacation.”
With the loss of manufacturing in the past 20 years (Standard Products, Uniroyal, Celotex and Silgan Plastics), tourism has become an even more important source of employment in our area, albeit seasonal. With the investment in a promotional event like the Columbus Travel Show, our area rises up again to the rung on the ladder that says “First Class Resort Community.”
For someone living in Columbus, or Gahanna, or Dublin or Pickerington, there isn’t much difference between Port Clinton, Marblehead or Catawba. They all are lumped together in one experience, along with the islands and the attractions in Erie County. Let us all hope that a rising tide does indeed raise all boats.