Lake Erie supports coastal communities in a variety of ways. Whether for fishing or transit, the lake is a vital resource for many towns on Ohio’s northern coast. Port Clinton is no exception, but the way they utilize the lake’s resources is certainly exceptional.
This May, the coastal town will hold its 38th annual Walleye Festival, an event which has earned Port Clinton the title “Walleye Capital of the World.” The four-day event draws large crowds, but until recently no one was sure what exactly the benefit was to Port Clinton.
“There was debate on whether or not the festival was worth the cost,” said Nicole Defreitas, sales and marketing director for Jet Express, who ran a pilot study in 2013 to find the estimated economic impact of the festival to Port Clinton. The city wanted to know if the cost of the festival was a good use of public funds and if they were getting a good return on their investment. The findings were overwhelmingly positive, with the study showing an impact of more than $1 million on the city of Port Clinton.
She then teamed up with Dr. Bob Lee of Bowling Green State University, who specializes in tourism and leisure studies, to expand the study to the county level and perform an in-depth analysis of the economic benefits to Ottawa County and identify the driving factors for attendance. Defreitas and Lee hoped to use the study to identify ways other coastal towns could leverage Lake Erie’s resources for their own events. Funded by Ohio Sea Grant, the pair set out in 2016 to learn what was, and is, Port Clinton’s key to success.
Defreitas and Lee conducted a survey to estimate visitor spending and learn participants’ reasons for attending the festival. The survey asked for demographic details, such as age, household income, and home ZIP code. It also asked participants how they learned about the festival and why they attended from a selection of provided reasons. Finally, the survey asked participants how much money they spent in a range of categories.
With all the information in hand, Defreitas and Lee analyzed their data and were more than pleased with their findings. The crowd counts showed upwards of 20,000 attendees, and the total economic impact to Ottawa County was 67 jobs, $1.8 million added in labor income and a total economic output of $3.8 million annually. “The numbers were much higher than expected,” said Defreitas. “You get used to the festival, but you don’t really realize the impact it has.”
Port Clinton officials were ecstatic at Defreitas and Lee’s results, as they not only showed that the festival was “worth the cost,” but that it had a huge impact on the community and surrounding area in terms of increased revenue and job creation. Even just knowing the attendance numbers helps going forward. “It’s useful for finding sponsors,” said Defreitas. “It’s also helpful for marketing the festival.”
Another benefit of the study was participants’ input to improve the festival. Suggestions ranged from requests for more parking and shaded areas to display boards educating attendees on the history of the festival or on people’s impact on the lake, a sentiment which Defreitas echoed. “If the lure of the walleye festival catches their attention, let’s use it as an opportunity to educate,” she said.
Defreitas and Lee summarized the suggestions and provided them to Main Street Port Clinton, the organization that plans the event, which intends to incorporate those suggestions when preparing for future walleye festivals.
Defreitas and Lee’s research on the Walleye Festival also shows why similar events can benefit other regions. In the study, the top two scoring reasons for attending the festival were “to spend time with family/friends” and “to get away from daily routine” (“for the Walleye Festival” was tied for third with “for the food and beverage”), suggesting an event’s subject matters less than its simple existence. Either way, there’s no doubt that Port Clinton’s Walleye Festival is a resounding success.
Looking to the future, Lee said he would like to come up with a model for other towns to use to create their own festivals or events. “Port Clinton has been very successful in developing a model. We’re interested in how other small coastal towns can borrow this model,” Lee said. He hopes that he can provide a resource that helps these small towns diversify and rejuvenate their economies by bringing visitors to their communities who then spend money at local businesses, boosting revenue and creating jobs.
Every town has something unique, and Lee hopes that his research can help people show off what makes their town special. From a local museum to agriculture tourism, he believes that every town can leverage its distinct personality and share it with the world in a way that’s both fun and benefits the community.
For more information about this project, contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.