Lisa Bernard-Kuhn reports:
Tourism is becoming a big business across the region, with area attractions drawing more than 22 million visitors last year, according to a new study out today.
The report’s biggest take-away: Tourism is playing a larger-than-expected role in the region’s recovery from the Great Recession, supporting nearly 94,000 jobs and pumping $4.1 billion back into the local economy in 2011.
Nearly one of every 10 jobs in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is related to tourism, the study found.
The Enquirer received an early look at the report, which is the first comprehensive assessment in more than a decade at the impact the local tourism industry has on the 15-county region.
The study was commissioned by the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network and Cincinnati USA and Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureaus. Its findings, which were compiled by New York-based Longwoods International, are slated to be released at a 10 a.m. meeting today of local hospitality, government and business leaders at the Westin Hotel downtown.
“We’re in the business of bringing new dollars into the economy,” said Dan Lincoln, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Tourism is the hidden, little engine that could, that people don’t intuitively notice when they think about our economy.”
Across the region, 57,000 jobs were tied directly to tourism, including employees in the hotel, transportation, retail, real estate and food and beverage industries.
The remaining 37,000 jobs, in sectors including manufacturing, communications and insurance, were supported indirectly by money spent by those employed locally in the tourism industry.
“When someone from out of town spends money here, there’s a huge ripple effect,” Lincoln said.
The number of visitors to the region also rose in 2011, climbing 1.8 percent 22.7 million. That’s more than the total populations of Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and West Virginia combined.
The $4.1 billion those guests spent in 2011 was 4.3 percent more than 2010, according to the report.
The data also revealed that most visitors (about 37 percent) to the area come from communities in Ohio, but outside of the region. Another large chunk, about 27 percent, come from Southern states including Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida.
So what’s bringing in the crowds and big bucks?
It’s a mix of the old favorites including hometown sports teams and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens and more recent additions like The Banks, new downtown restaurants and a revitalizing Over-the-Rhine.
“We have a very different region than we did 10 years ago,” said Eric Summe, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People can come here and look on both sides of the river to see all the activity that’s taking place. It’s having a greater impact for the entire region.”
The region’s mix of big business, including The Kroger Co., Procter & Gamble and Macy’s also provides a steady flow of new arrivals through town.
The report underscores another important facet of the impact that tourism can have on a region. It takes a comprehensive, regional strategy to leverage tourist activity and spending in a way that produces the biggest boost for the region, said Linda Antus, president and CEO of the Regional Tourism Network.
The network is a separate multi-county agency that concentrates on marketing leisure activities, allowing the convention and visitor bureaus to focus on business-centered events.
“The positive results validate that our unique model is working very well,” Antus said.
“Marketing directly to those different audiences, combined with the critical mass of product that we have here and the development across the region are critical to the success we’ve seen,” she said.