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President of Urbana University resigns

Re-organized tourism department looks to identify “brand Ohio”

Equipped with new funding sources and a new director, state government agency TourismOhio is seeking to come up with a single brand to sell Ohio to visitors.

Efforts to attract travelers were previously under the umbrella of Ohio Development Services Agency. TourismOhio is still part of the development department, but now has a new name, new director — Mary Cusick — and its own funding stream. Legislation approved in 2012 allocated up to $10 million a year for TourismOhio coming from sales tax receipts on hotels, restaurants, museums, rental cars and other tourism-related businesses.

No new taxes were introduced. The funding model, re-routing a portion of growing sales tax revenues to tourism, will be tested for five years, according to the tourism agency.

Also, Ohio Gov. John Kasich appointed an advisory board for TourismOhio consisting of industry leaders including Greg Scheid, general manager of Warren County amusement park Kings Island.

Then Cusick, a more than 30-year veteran of Bob Evans, was named last year the organization’s new director and took over the role in December 2013.

“What we don’t have is that brand Ohio,” Cusick told this news outlet during a recent trip to West Chester Twp.

One example of a successful tourism brand launch, something similar to what Ohio is trying to do, is Pure Michigan.

“I think the brand Pure Michigan are all those assets. They’ve done an amazing thing because they’ve made you think ‘this’ of Michigan totally when Detroit is crumbling and Flint has one quarter the population they had 15 years ago,” Cusick said.

“It’s kind of stunning what they’ve done in terms of turning our heads,” she said. “They did that by building on those authentic assets. They have those beautiful… lake shores”

“What we’ve got to do is uncover those distinctive assets about Ohio,” she said.

Growing tourism is important to the state because of the industry’s impact on local economies. Tourism generates tax revenues and creates jobs, Cusick said.

Sales of hotel rooms, amusement park ticket sales and other travel-related spending generated an estimated $36 billion in Ohio in 2012, according to figures provided by TourismOhio. The number of visits to and within Ohio reached 188 million in 2012 compared to 181 million in 2011. Of those visitors in 2012, more than 38 million people stayed overnight in Ohio and were likely to spend more money, an increase of nearly 2 percent from 2011, according to results of an economic impact study conducted for TourismOhio.

To come up with an Ohio brand to draw more people to the buckeye state, “we need to do the research so we understand,” Cusick said.

“My goal would be to make the branding such a legacy it doesn’t change,” she said.

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