Tourism bureau’s spending dwindles
Sep 30, 2013 at 12:10 PM
Whether it’s watercraft, wineries or roller coasters, local tourism officials are always looking to promote Erie County’s greatest features.
But compared to years past, they’re less eager to up the ante.
Lake Erie Shores & Islands, the county’s leading marketer for tourism, reserved 70 percent of its income from October 2012 through September for marketing purposes.
The amount is the lowest recommended by area financial consultants, and it’s also a slight decrease in marketing compared to years past.
From October 2010 through September 2012, for instance, the tourism bureau designated 73 percent of its funds to promotions, according to a Register analysis of data obtained through a public records request.
The bureau’s leaders reserved the remaining amount for salaries, benefits, rent for their Milan Road headquarters and other administrative obligations. The bureau’s total annual income has remained steady during this period, at about $2.5 million.
To fund their operations, local tourism officials collect money from bed taxes, a fee imposed on anyone staying in a hotel or motel room in Erie County. At 2 percent, Erie County’s bed tax rate is among the lowest in Ohio.
Tourism officials said they’ve spent less on marketing to offset other soaring costs.
“Our marketing cost keeps lowering because the operations and the rent on our building goes up incrementally,” said Dawn Weinhardt, Lake Erie Shores & Islands managing director. “The cost of living goes up every year, the cost of havingminimum wage employees increases, and we have a lot of seasonal staff.”
The marketing budget, in terms of percentage, won’t decrease any further. The bureau’s financial board has ordered Lake Erie Shores & Islands to spend no less than 70 percent of all annual funds on marketing.
“Since we are a marketing organization, we would not be fiscally responsible if we’re not spending money on marketing,” Weinhardt said.
Joan Van Offeren, the bureau’s executive director, said Lake Erie Shores & Islands actually spends more on marketing than what’s actually necessary.
She provided the Register with a study her organization recently participated in, wherein surveyors analyzed how tourism bureaus — similar in size to Erie County’s — spend their money. In short, the study concluded the other bureaus spend about 53 percent of their funds on marketing, with the rest going toward salaries and administrative purposes.
“Our budget is significantly skewed toward marketing expenses, which is our main mission,” Van Offeren said.
Despite the downturn in spending, officials still unveiled a grand marketing tool last year. The tourism bureau spent $275,000 to build two massive “Welcome” signs where Ohio 2 meets U.S. 250, letting visitors know they’ve entered Erie County.
For 2014, tourism officials are already planning to unveil a completely new and aggressive marketing campaign, in hopes of luring more visitors.
Among the other tactics planned for next year:
• Continue promoting area venues in markets outside of Ohio, including Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne, through print and digital mediums.
• Contribute about $2 million to help Erie County officials widen and enhance safety features on Milan Road, from Cleveland Road to East Bogart Road. The year-long project, costing $32 million, should be finished in 2016. Officials want to paint street poles and possibly place signage along the corridor.
• Attempt to form partnerships with local communities, such as the city of Huron, for marketing opportunities. One idea discussed involves painting the city of Huron’s water tower near Rye Beach Road, a popular exit for people visiting Cedar Point.