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Clark County looks to grow $320M tourism industry

Tourism contributes more than $320 million to the Clark County economy and local leaders want to boost that even more.

So the Clark County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is working with a consultant and several area attractions to develop new tours and programs to attract more visitors to the region.

The goal is to take attractions that already exist, and find ways to offer additional experiences that will resonate with visitors, said Joe Veneto, a consultant who specializes in promoting tourism.

The additional tours could also bring more revenue to the county, he said.

The industry plays an important role in the region’s economy, said Chris Schutte, director of marketing and the convention and visitor’s bureau for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

A report last year estimated the total economic impact of tourism in Clark County was $326 million in 2011, he said. Information from Ohio Tourism Works estimated the industry creates about $40 billion in revenue annually in Ohio and supports about 443,000 jobs.

Representatives from several organizations, including Young’s Jersey Dairy, the Westcott House and the Heritage Center of Clark County took part in the discussion with Veneto last week.

“I’m definitely excited that so many people are interested in it,” Schutte said.

The additional experiences would build on attractions that already exist, and provide more interactive options for visitors, said Ann Fortescue, executive director of the Springfield Museum of Art.

For example, she said guests could continue to pay the normal admission and visit the museum at their own pace. But it could also create activities to allow visitors to interact with an artist or get an in-depth lesson about a work of art for an additional fee.

Or the museum could pair with Young’s Dairy to offer a tour of the farm, and then allow visitors to view works of art based on Ohio landscapes at the museum. The goal, she said, is to offer a more personal experience for guests and encourage them to return to the area for additional visits or overnight tours.

“We’re taking this step by step and we know we’re going to get to the point where we’re ready for these immersive experiences,” Fortescue said.

Similar efforts have been successful in cities like Columbus, which offers as many as 50 activities that provide hands-on and more personal experiences for visitors, Schutte said.

Veneto will initially work with the visitor’s bureau to develop two or three activities to promote. If successful, it could also create new revenue for area attractions that will make them more sustainable.

“That’s what we need to take our destinations to the next step,” Schutte said.

Many local residents aren’t aware of the history and attractions that already exist locally, said Roger Sherrock, CEO of the Heritage Center. But he said the region offers a lot to visitors. The Heritage Center already hosts events like Night at the Museum, a collaboration with the George Roger Clark Heritage Association that allows residents to interact with actors portraying historical figures from the area.

That event sells out every year, but could be enhanced or eventually offered more often to draw more visitors, he said.

“A lot of people are shocked once they get here,” Sherrock said. “We tend to think locally our history is over and we’re just hanging around and we need to change that.”

Officials in Champaign County are also working to promote more tourism in the region, although they are not associated with the effort in Clark County.

Earlier this year, chamber officials visited the Heartland Travel Show to connect with bus tour operators from around the region, said Sandi Arnold, executive director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce. Many of those operators are making plans now for destinations to visit in the next two years, and the chamber is hoping to bring two to four tours to Champaign County as early as this year.

Tour operators are looking for unusual destinations, and Arnold said Champaign County provided several potential itineraries. One possibility could be a Champaign Aviation tour that would include a trip to the Champaign Aviation Museum and Grimes Field, with lunch at the Grimes Field Airport Cafe.

Visitors from across the state and region can be encouraged to make return trips if they are aware of the region’s attractions, Arnold said.

“One of the thing’s that’s thrilling to me is Ohio is promoting regional travel,” she said.

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