- Jeff Gilbert Contributing Writer
Tourism revenue increased by 8.5 percent in Clark County the past two years, outpacing the overall rates for Southwest Ohio and the state, according to an economic impact report released this week.
The revenue for 2015 was $394.9 million. That’s a $27 million increase since the last two-year reporting cycle in 2013. When Chris Schutte, the director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, got the economic impact report he wasn’t surprised to see growth because he’s been tracking travel reports of hotel use.
“The impact increasing was to be expected,” he said. “Now I don’t know that I knew it was going to be as dramatic as it was.”
Clark County’s percentage growth is higher than the rates for Southwest Ohio (5.7 percent) and the entire state (4.9 percent). Tourism is the source of 4,477 jobs and generated nearly $11 million in local taxes, according to the report.
The increased revenues mean Schutte and Dean Blair of the Clark County Fairgrounds want to make room for more growth.
In 2016, Schutte said demand for lodging is already up 14.9 percent. The next logical step, he said, is to build more hotels. The county has about 1,300 hotel rooms.
“The demand is going to dictate if we have more hotel rooms built,” Schutte said. “Around the big events the rooms sell out.”
The fairgrounds host many of the big events, such as the Antique Show Extravaganza in May and September and car shows. The Champions Center is hosting an Arabian horse show this week.
“As I’m here every day witnessing this stuff, I’m not surprised at the economic growth and the tourism dollars being way up,” said Blair, who took over as executive director of the fairgrounds in May and is a former chairman of the board for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The biggest events have put a strain on parking. Blair said people had to park up the road and walk to the fairgrounds for the Extravaganza, which welcomed 25,000 visitors in May and is considered one of the largest indoor-outdoor shows in the Midwest.
“There was not one inch of real estate left on this fairgrounds,” Blair said.
So Blair is asking his board to look for ways to increase parking, which will also allow him to increase the size of events. The fairgrounds owns an adjoining parcel of 186 acres that includes a 100-acre lake. But that area is fenced off. Blair envisions developing that area for parking, camping and a boat dock.
Leisure travel has been an online marketing focus the past two years, and Schutte is pleased with the results. He said search engine marketing and more strategic use of social media has brought more visitors to www.VisitGreaterSpringfield.com. Traffic to the site has increased from 5,000 visits per month to 14,000.
A series of one-minute videos that feature a single destination are part of a content marketing strategy that is bringing people to the site through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“All of these things go back to how are you getting that message out about what Springfield has to offer to that leisure traveler,” Schutte said.
Low online advertising rates have also helped Schutte reach a wider audience that his budget does not allow through traditional means. He said a $20 ad boost on Facebook to promote the Summer Arts Festival resulted in 16,000 views, over 200 shares and over 300 likes. And a new streaming ad on Pandora has quickly resulted in 2,000 visits to the website.
“A lot of these playing fields have come open to us now,” Schutte said. “Where before, you just couldn’t compete on that level.”