The unexpected drop in traffic at shoresandislands.com breaks a longtime pattern revealed in years of reports by Lake Erie Shores and Islands East, the visitor bureau funded by bed taxes on local hotels.
Over the years, the reports invariably showed a drop in phone calls to the bureau, a drop in visits to the visitor bureau’s offices on U.S. 250, but a rise in Internet traffic.
The latest report, however, revealed a surprise.
Phone calls fell 48 percent for the fiscal year ending in September, compared to the previous year, while visits to the welcome center also fell 3 percent.
Visits to the agency's website fell about 10 percent, and the drop was actually 18 percent in the last quarter. In the last fiscal year, shoresandislands.com had about 454,700 visits, down from about 504,000 the year prior.
With bed tax revenue up 6 percent over the last fiscal year, tourism appears to be healthy in Erie County, County commissioner Bill Monaghan said. More people are coming here and spending money, he said.
Perhaps much of the increase in business activity is the result of repeat visits from people who already know the area and don’t have to do much more research, Monaghan suggested.
Noticing a drop in website visits, employees at the visitor bureau are working to improve the numbers in 2013, said Joan Van Offeren, executive director of Lake Erie Shores and Islands East.
The amount of time that visitors spent on the site rose, Van Offeren said.
Cleveland-based Marcus Thomas LLC, the marketing company in charge of the website, analyzed the data to flesh out more details.
Shoresandislands.com actually saw web traffic increase when it came to users reaching the site as a result of clicking ads on other sites, or by entering search terms in online search engines.
But in respect to direct traffic from people entering shoresandislands.com in the URL address, there was a decline. There was also a drop in traffic generated by links from other websites.
“In this case, the drops outpaced the growth,” the Marcus Thomas report said.
Significant drops in referrals from portclinton.org, portclinton.com, cityofsandusky.com and Yahoo news contributed to the decline, the report said.
“It is unclear using the data available if the three local sites changed their site links or if their overall traffic has fallen,” the report said. “The Yahoo News loss was due to a popular article featuring Shores & Islands in 2011, but no comparable coverage in 2012.”
The main drop in direct traffic — traffic generated by people familiar with the website — came from Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Pittsburgh.
Van Offeren said it’s possible some people have grown familiar with the site, thus deciding they don’t have to return to it all of the time.
The visitor bureau plans to make the website address more prominent in commercials.
Marcus Thomas is also working closely with Ron Foth Advertising to figure out the most effective way to drive traffic to shoresandislands.com, according to its report.