Business and tourism groups join to tout Cincinnati's buzz

Amplify Cincinnati seeks positive national press

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati's top tourism officials want more bounce from the region's buzz.

Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau officials will describe a new initiative at its annual meeting today  that they hope will do just that. Called Amplify Cincinnati the initiative is a communications collaborative that leaders say will parlay the positive publicity Cincinnati gets from major events like the World Choir Games into regular and consistent national attention.

"If you think of Charlotte or Austin, you may not have seen it, felt it or tasted it but you've heard so much about it, you think, ‘I'd like to go there.' That's buzz," said Dan Lincoln, the bureau's president and CEO. "We're a buzz city in our industry. We need to be a buzz city to the general public nationally."

Lincoln said more than a dozen local business and civic groups have been involved in planning the new three-year initiative, while a smaller group is working out a business plan for the effort. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. are among those involved in the effort so far.

"There's no one organization whose mission is to wake up every day and think about national consumer buzz," said Julie Calvert, the bureau's vice president of communication and strategic initiatives. "We did it really well for the NAACP three years ago. We did it really well around the World Choir Games. But that forces you into this peak and valley of awareness. We do it one year because we have a really nice opportunity and then we're quiet for a couple of years. When you look at successful buzz cities like Charlotte, Austin, Columbus, it has to be consistent and it has to be amplified."

The new initiative comes at a time of slowing growth for the bureau, which in 2012 booked events likely to fill 205,781 future hotel room nights and generate a combined economic impact of $61.3 million. Both numbers are the highest levels achieved since 2006, but represent increases of less than one percent from 2010.

"We've had some extraordinary double-digit growth. For any organization, that's almost impossible to maintain," Lincoln said. "So we're in single-digit, incremental growth at this point. We'd like to do more. We have to do more. But it's hard to maintain double-digit growth every year without significant changes in your product. We have the smallest convention center in our competitive set of 12 to 13 cities."

Lincoln said he'd like to see a discussion begin about a new convention center expansion. He said it typically takes cities seven to 10 years to plan and build an expanded center and the last two expansions happened 20 years apart.

"We don't need to expand tomorrow. But we're seven years into our last expansion. We need to start conversations now about where when and how," he said.

Lincoln said Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati is likely to bring more visitors to downtown, but the opening of new hotels and restaurants mean that Cincinnati will need a more vibrant convention and tourism industry than it had in the past.

"We've got phenomenal growth and momentum in terms of product growing with restaurants, attractions, entertainment districts on both sides of the river," he said. "We've got to be very aggressive about … driving more business leads in to the marketplace. The casino's going to help but we need to build capacity on the leisure side, the business/transient side and on the group side. That'll be our big challenge."

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