Saturday, March 21, 1998
Visitors bureau looks to
drum up business for north

BY JANET C. WETZEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SHARONVILLE - Help is on the way to market hotel rooms in Cincinnati's northern suburbs.

Sculptures
George Voyzey's carved wooden animals were hot Friday at a craft show at the Sharonville Convention Center.
(Richard Tsong-Taatarii photo)
| ZOOM |
The Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau has heard the cry of officials in that area and has committed to establishing a satellite office later this year along the Interstate 275 corridor to help promote the area.

During a meeting Tuesday, representatives of the bureau, municipalities involved and some hotels will decide the scope of a planned study on the issue, Sharonville Mayor Virgil Lovitt said.

By late next week, that study will be launched to determine the best location for the satellite office, whether the effort will be aimed at promoting tourism, attracting small meeting groups, or a combination of the two, said Mr. Lovitt.

''The hotels in Cincinnati's northern corridor derive much of their room occupancy from tourism,'' Mr. Lovitt said. But many facilities, such as the Sharonville Convention Center and various hotels and motels, have quality banquet and meeting space to attract groups of 300 to 400, he said.

Mr. Lovitt said the satellite is just a first step.

''The effectiveness of the office is what will make the difference,'' he said. ''Getting an office is not a win. Filling hotel rooms is the win. The study is to determine what type of marketing will best fill hotel rooms.''

Late last year, Mr. Lovitt led a charge asking for a fair share of bureau revenues - about $500,000 annually - to be used to promote the northern suburbs, particularly Sharonville, Springdale and Blue Ash, which have numerous hotel rooms.

City officials and hotel representatives from those communities joined Mr. Lovitt's effort. The group threatened to open their own bureau if the Cincinnati bureau refused to cooperate. Forest Park recently joined in.

Those communities have about 6,000 hotel rooms - more than half the total in Hamilton County. And they collect more than $2 million annually from a 3 percent, countywide hotel - motel tax, Mr. Lovitt said.

The bureau, which promotes the hospitality and tourism industry in Greater Cincinnati, gets about 95 percent of the estimated $4.75 million annual county lodging taxes. That represents the bulk of its funding.

Yet suburban city officials say despite their hefty contribution, their rewards are minimal.

Michael Wilson, bureau president, said the bureau recently hired an extra staff member who works downtown focusing on the northern suburbs.

When the proposed study to review the north's potential is finished next month, ''we'll use that as a tool to help build business in that area,'' Mr. Wilson said. As for a new office site, ''I think we'll look at all areas out there, what's the best proximity for all entities?'' Mr. Lovitt agreed, saying he wants it ''where it will do the most good for the Cincinnati north hotels.''

While the added expenses for the north effort are not budgeted for this year, Mr. Wilson said he believes the bureau could handle the costs for the fourth quarter.

James Dygert, president of Sharonville Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed satellite is a positive step, and the chamber will work to help establish it.

''We're hopeful they will make a difference, and we appreciate that they're willing to work with us,'' Mr. Dygert said. ''We're very optimistic that it will work out well.''

Many hotel representatives have applauded the effort for better marketing. But Robert Butler, director of sales and marketing for Cincinnati Marriott, said earlier a satellite would likely be a waste of resources.

On Friday, however, Mr. Butler said he welcomes the study. ''

I'm in a wait-and-see mode until the study comes back to see what that might tell us,'' Mr. Butler said. ''Everybody's goal here is the same - to generate more business for the hotel industry in the Greater Cincinnati area - to bring more travelers here so they will spend their money here. We need to know what is the means to do that most effectively.''