Butler, Warren tourism is a billion-dollar industry

BUTLER COUNTY — Tourism is a billion dollar industry in both Butler and Warren counties. The industry has done well in 2015, and the Journal-News reports that tourism in the counties is expected to grow even more in 2016 as new hotels, motels and attractions open.

Mark Hecquet, executive director of the Butler County Visitors Bureau, called 2015 “a fantastic year.”

“We saw significant increases for the year in the daily occupancy rate of 3 percent and in the daily room rate, which was up 4.3 percent,” he said. “There is a strong hotel demand and new hotels are coming in.”

He said hotel revenue has also been rising. In 2014, hotel revenues were up 10.2 percent; in 2015, it was up 11 percent.

Hequet said the newly opened Liberty Center has helped to spur more growth in addition to the increase in youth sports tournaments at the Voice of America Park, which he said has had a huge impact.

“We are in the sweet spot of the Interstate 75 corridor,” he told the Journal-News.

Overall, Hecquet said in the last state economic impact study completed in 2014, it was estimated tourism was just short of being a billion dollar industry. That report estimated that 1 of every 13 jobs are tourism-related and directly employs more than 9,800 people in Butler County.

TourismOhio estimated that visitor spending reached $40 billion from an estimated 200 million visits to Ohio in 2014. That was up an estimated $38 billion in visitor spending and estimated 195 million visits to the state. In addition, that report estimated that average spending per person was $341 for overnight travelers and $112 for day travelers. It also estimated that statewide, there were 412,000 direct and indirect tourism-related jobs in 2014, which was up from 405,000 jobs in 2013.

One aspect included in the spending of people visiting area attractions and events are also adding to the local coffers as well. Municipalities and townships with hotels, motels and other lodgings also generate lodging/bed taxes for their communities to operate their visitors bureaus, promote their tourism events and programs, or provide additional fund for their general operating funds. Those taxes range between 3 and 6 percent locally.

He said the next report will be released by the state later this year and he expects the economic impact to be more than $1 billion for Butler County.

“We’re almost on par with Warren County,” he said. “Kings Island is a huge draw, but Butler County has unique venues such as the Liberty Center, Miami University and the Voice of America Sports Complex.”

He also said the BCVB is also working with local communities such as Hamilton, Middletown and Oxford, on various projects and promotion of events. Hecquet said his organization is working with Hamilton on its Champions Sports Complex and the Great American Bicycle Adventure in June where nearly 3,000 bicyclists will spend a few days biking, camping and exploring a few towns in southwest Ohio. The GOBA will start in Hamilton, then bike to Eaton, Oxford, Brookville, Miamisburg before returning to Hamilton.

BCVB is working in partnership with the Oxford Visitors Bureau with its ice hockey event and is assisting Middletown develop its downtown strategy with the RiverCenter facility that will be constructed by the city and the MetroParks of Butler County.

“A good, vibrant tourism program improves the economic viability of cities, townships and the county,” he told the Journal-News.

Looking ahead to 2016, Hecquet predicts an uptick in the county’s tourism business as new venues and events open such as Top Golf, the Main Event, the AC Hotel and the next expansion of Liberty Center.

“It’s going to be a strong year for attractions and in 2016 our county will see an increase of different hotel brands,” he said.

Hecquet said the bureau will also be working in 2016 to bring more small meetings to the county as well as more effort into its sports marketing program to attract more youth sports tournaments. He said this weekend , the BCVB will be in Baltimore, Md. at the National Soccer Coaches Association meeting where 4,000 soccer coaches will gather. Hecquet said the BCVB will be promoting Butler County tournaments and venues as a place to visit.

He also said a “Hello Weekend” campaign will be launched in the coming weeks to promote county tourism.

“This is an exciting time for the county to get out and tell everyone what a great place we are to visit,” Hecquet said.

Warren County tourism continues to grow

Across the county line, the tourism industry in Warren County, which calls itself “Ohio’s Largest Playground” and expect 2016 to be an even better year.

Philip Smith, president and CEO, of the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the state’s latest economic impact numbers won’t be released until later this year, but anecdotally, “everybody had a great year.”

Smith said the tourism in Warren County was a $1.063 billion industry, according to the last economic impact study released in 2014.

Kings Island draws the largest number of visitors to the county and continues to develop new attractions, Smith said. But there are other attractions events that draw large numbers of people to Warren County such as The Beach water park that features a tubing hill in the winter; the annual Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville that draws about 300,000 over a fall weekend; the Western & Southern Tennis Tournament that attracts the top men’s and women’s tennis players in the world and draws more than 200,000 people over a week; various sports marketing events focusing on youth sports to state and NCAA athletic events. Smith said the sports marketing efforts draws about 185,000 people.

Smith said the sports marketing effort that started in 2010 and focused on youth baseball tournaments during July has been a huge success.

“It’s really worked out well, but we’re running out of room and we’re having to say ‘no’ a lot,” Smith said.

As for challenges in 2016, Smith said some of the biggest challenges in 2014 for the WCCVB include finding creative ways to reach visitors for leisure travel; keeping up with the continually evolving social media landscape to communicate with visitors; and finding more facilities for its sports marketing efforts as there is more interest than capacity.

Smith said a proposed $10 million sports complex in Turtlecreek Twp. has been discussed since 2006 and the latest proposal, which includes raising the county’s lodging/bed tax by 1 percent, has been under consideration by the Warren County Commission.

He said the commissioners tabled the proposed 1 percent tax lodging/bed tax increase after a Jan. 5 public meeting until more of the details could be worked out.

“I expect that this will be back on track very soon,” he said.

Smith said the state has adopted enabling legislation to would allow the county commissioners to raise the lodging/bed tax from 3 percent to 4 percent. He said if the new sports complex is completed, the additional economic impact was estimated at $54.3 million.

A new attraction for Kings Island

It may be winter, but there has been a lot of construction along Kings Island Drive as well as at Kings Island theme park.

While crews work on the $5 million project widen Kings Island Drive as well as make other infrastructure improvements, the park’s newest attraction is already rising at Soak City. In addition, a new entrance is being constructed that will eliminate the current north and south entrances that have been in use since the park’s opening in 1972, according to Kings Island spokesman Don Helbig.

Helbig said the construction crews are working on Tropical Plunge, a complex of six different water slide experiences towering nearly seven stories at Soak City as well as increase the size of the water park by 35 acres.

He said among the features of the new attraction, which is expected to open Memorial Day weekend, three of the slides on the 65-foot tall complex will start with guests climbing inside an Aqua-Launch chamber where the floor will drop out from underneath their feet, sending them into a high-speed, almost vertical free fall through a series of flat loops and S-curves in a translucent flume.

Tropical Plunge will also feature a slide sending riders twisting and spiraling through an enclosed chute featuring four intense 360-degree loops across 449 feet of slide before landing into a pool of water and dueling 337-foot long tube slides that zip riders through a series of drops and turns.

Helbig declined to comment on the cost of the new attraction but said it was “7 figures.” He also declined to give an attendance figure for 2015.

Once Tropical Plunge has been built, Soak City Waterpark will feature a total of 36 slides; two wave pools; two coves; a lagoon and an action river plus children’s play areas among its more than 50 water activities.

The new entrance will feature 13 lanes to get visitors into the park quicker.

“This should really improve traffic flow,” he said.

Helbig said the 2016 special events calendar will be released in the next few weeks and said there will be more events for season ticket holders.

“We had a good year in 2015 and we’re excited about what 2016 will bring,” he said.


Lodging/bed tax collected in Butler County

2013 - $1.058 million

2014 - $1.149 million

2015 - $958,329 (for the first three quarters of 2015)

Note: These amounts do not include separate lodging/bed taxes collected by cities.

Source: Butler County Auditor’s Office

Warren County lodging/bed taxes collected

2013 - $2.122 million

2014 - $2.246 million

2015 - $2.481 million

NOTE: These amounts do not include lodging/bed taxes that are separately collected by local municipalities or townships.

Source: Warren County Office of Management and Budget

Montgomery County lodging/bed tax collected

2013 - $2.5 million

2014 - $2.7 million

2015 - $2.9 million

NOTE: These amounts do not include lodging/bed taxes that are separately collected by local municipalities or townships.

Source: Montgomery County Auditor’s Office

 

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO - 9 On Your Side.

 

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