The average birdwatcher in Ohio is a Baby Boomer with an average individual income over $50,000, often with at least one college degree. With numbers like those, the state’s 2.4 million birdwatchers are obviously an important segment of Ohio’s $39 billion tourism industry, but until now, no one has studied exactly how much they impact the state’s economy. In the coming year, however, Ohio Sea Grant researcher Philip Xie plans to find out, and the information he uncovers could be used by resource managers, conservation groups, local officials, and tourism organizations to create new programming, improve and preserve natural areas, and entice new visitors-and their dollars-to the Buckeye State.
Xie, Associate Professor at Bowling Green State University, will focus his study on six sites along the shores of Lake Erie, from Toledo to Conneaut. "Using a 50- or 60-question survey, we’ll ask if they’re from out of state or in state," he says. "How much are they spending to travel? How much on food, accommodations, and equipment while they’re here? Lastly, we’ll ask for feedback on what they like and what they’d like to see improved." By talking to many different bird enthusiasts to pinpoint their expectations, Xie’s research can help resource managers, local governments, and tourism groups hone their facilities and programming to satisfy a variety of visitors.
Frank Lopez, who manages Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, believes the study will also give communities the hard data they need to back up their conservation efforts. "In Ohio, conservation and land-use decisions are generally made at the local level, so giving the decision-makers a full picture of the economic value of wildlife resources and habitats could lead to improved or additional access to public lands," he explains.
Preliminary data from this study will be available in spring 2011.
To read more about this Ohio Sea Grant-funded research, visit http://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/_documents/twineline/v32i1.pdf .