Tourism is remarkably complex. Like an iceberg, most people will only see a small part of the big picture, but tourism’s influence is far-reaching in Ohio. It affects and is affected by many different factors, from the economy to the environment, and is intertwined with life in the Buckeye State. That’s why Ohio Sea Grant has such a large stake in the success of tourism. In providing travel experiences like tours and events or supporting communities in finding the best ways to attract more visitors, Ohio Sea Grant is there to help show off what makes this state so special.
“Tourism in Ohio is largely underappreciated,” said Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association. “Most people never notice how travel benefits them.” When tourism in an area succeeds, it has a tendency to uplift the surrounding community too. Visitors to any area often spend money at many businesses, not just the hotel or event they traveled to attend. This spending can have a big impact on the economies of communities.
The eight counties bordering Lake Erie (Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Erie, Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake and Ashtabula) account for approximately one-third of Ohio’s total travel economy. In many of these coastal places, it can be easy to see how tourism impacts communities because the effect is direct. Businesses like Sandusky’s Cedar Point or events like Port Clinton’s Walleye Festival contribute to many jobs in lodging, transportation and food service. But the flow of the travel dollar beyond the businesses travelers encounter isn’t always as obvious.
In 2016, 212 million visitors spent $34 billion directly at Ohio hotels, attractions, shops and other travel-related businesses. That spending spurred an additional $9 billion as travel-related Ohio businesses purchased goods and supplies, like ingredients for a restaurant or mechanical parts for a ferry, from neighboring businesses to meet consumer demand. All this spending adds up, and according to the Ohio Department of Taxation, the travel industry accounts for nearly 11% of all sales tax collected by the state.
Ohio Sea Grant is on the forefront of the effort to improve environmental education in the travel industry. Education and travel go hand-in-hand: a great way to educate people is through the creation of memorable experiences that speak to a traveler’s heart, and the goal of tourism is exactly that. “You may have a perception of that place, but you don’t have a connection, nor do you know what that place has to offer until someone shows you,” said Huntley. Ohio Sea Grant works with industry leaders and local communities to help them provide the most memorable, educational and engaging experience possible with the goal of leaving visitors with a positive impression of the state and an understanding of its natural beauty.
Welcoming travelers is a great opportunity to change people’s perceptions and educate them on the environment and how humans affect it. “Many environmental groups focus on the negative, and there is a time and place for that, but we have to balance it with the positive,” said Huntley. Traveler motivation studies show that people want to learn about the places they visit, and they learn best when they’re engaged. Through tour guides, posters, pavilions at festivals and many other methods, museums and popular travel destinations can educate guests on any number of subjects, like harmful algal blooms and invasive grass carp in Lake Erie, and provide travelers with a richer experience at the same time.
The best education practices do more than just educate visitors though; they work with the locations to create traveler experiences that also benefit the environment through action and education.
A great example of such a program is the Ohio Clean Marinas and Clean Boater programs. “The Clean Marinas Program is the classic example of a program that supports a healthy environment and a healthy economy,” said Huntley. Started in 2005 through a partnership between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Lake Erie Marine Trades Association and Ohio Sea Grant, the Clean Marinas Program encourages better environmental practices at marinas by offering a certification that the marina can then use to promote their business. They also have the opportunity to participate in the boat shrinkwrap recycling program, which has recycled more than 2 million pounds of shrink-wrap since 2006. That shrink-wrap has been used to make guard-rail blocks to keep Ohio roads safer. Boaters, in turn, can pledge to be a Clean Boater, and they are educated on things they can do to help preserve the health of Lake Erie.
The Ohio Clean Marinas Program has been monumentally successful on Lake Erie. So successful, in fact, that in 2015 marina owners asked for help in developing a similar program for inland waters and lakes. This expanded the Clean Marinas Program statewide, helping to ensure the health of Ohio waterways for generations to come.
Currently, more than 45 marinas are certified as Ohio Clean Marinas, and 35 more are working toward certification. The program is effective because it benefits those who have a stake in the health of the lake. Boaters seek out the healthiest waters, and Clean Marinas offers solid standards for health. The marinas, too, benefit by attracting more boaters to the healthy waters they steward, and, of course, everyone benefits from having a healthier lake and a healthier environment.
Continue reading about Ohio Sea Grant’s connection to the travel industry in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of Twine Line.