OK, so there are no shining seas, no purple mountain majesties, but something is tempting one out of four tourists who visit Ohio to hit the Tristate.
The big draws are obvious and enduring. Most families within driving distance make an annual trip to Paramount's Kings Island. Others travel here for a Cincinnati Reds game or to spend a day at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
But the subtle change boosting "Cincinnati" tourism is that visitors are staying longer and exploring roads less traveled -- especially in Warren County.
Diverse attractions in the eight-county Tristate -- Kentucky's Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties, Ohio's Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties and Indiana's Dearborn County -- are credited with pumping up Greater Cincinnati's economy with money spent by 4.7 million tourists in 1997. Tourism in Southwest Ohio rose from 19 percent to 24 percent of the total state tourism pie between 1996 and 1997, according to figures to be released this week by the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism.
"Southwest Ohio is the second-most-visited area and experienced the greatest increase in share of leisure travel in a year," said Colleen May, research manager for the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism. "That's real good news for you."
While Greater Cincinnati's share of Ohio's tourism market grew, Cleveland's dropped slightly from 34.8 percent in 1996 to 33 percent last year. Although Cleveland remains the state's top destination, area experts think Cleveland's tourism peaked in 1996 when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened and said more expensive hotel rooms in Cleveland shift tourists to Cincinnati.
"With the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we saw a huge flurry to Cleveland to check it out," said Daniel Lincoln, vice president for Tourism and Membership for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Now, I think we're starting to see the pendulum swing back."
More than 66 million people visit Ohio tourist attractions yearly. Of them, 53 percent live in Ohio. The majority of the remaining tourists come from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Enhancing the area's longstanding assets are homespun festivals, historical sites and rolling hills and winding creeks on both sides of the Ohio River and in Indiana.
Theme parks, nature activities and sporting events helped make Ohio the sixth-most-visited state in the country last year. In 1997, 66 million people visited Ohio tourist attractions. Of them, 53 percent were from the state of Ohio.
The top five states:
Source: The Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism
Consider these 1997 attendance figures:
- More than 3.3 million people visited Kings Island in Mason.
- More than 3.3 million people visited the Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg; nearly 3.1 million rode the Grand Victoria riverboat in Rising Sun, Ind.
- Cincinnati Reds home games drew 1.78 million fans.
- The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden served 1.3 million guests.
- Combined, Warren County's Renaissance Festival in Harveysburg, Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville and The Beach drew 598,000 visitors.
- In Kentucky, attendence at Turfway Park in Florence was 340,484. Covington's BB Riverboats guided 200,000 passengers along the Ohio River.
"We're a drive-to state," Mr. Lincoln said. This summer, the bureau is actively marketing "Great Cincinnati Getaways" to entice families to the region and get them to stay for more than a day.
Again, Warren County gets a big pitch because there are so many tourism spots 30 miles from Cincinnati.
Caesar Creek State Park in Warren County -- with its campground, boat launch and rustic Pioneer Village -- beckons outdoor types who want a weekend in nature. Only seven miles away, tourists can rent canoes or bikes and explore the 60-mile Little Miami Scenic Trail, which parallels the Little Miami River, suggested Robyn Lane, executive director of the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau. And Fort Ancient State Memorial gives visitors a chance to view mounds built by ancient Indian cultures.
All that, and Kings Island, too.
Jim Smith, a roofing estimator from Cheviot, got a jump on summer vacationers Thursday by treating his son and nephew to a day at the Caesar Creek Lake. They launched their motorboat for the first time this year.
"We've been coming up here 10 years," Mr. Smith said. "It used to be a little-kept secret, but now it's getting real crowded." Because the Smiths drove more than 50 miles to get to the lake, they are considered "tourists," Mr. Lincoln said.
Cincinnati's tourism bureau defines a "tourist" as anyone who travels 50 miles or more to an attraction.
The immense brochure display inside the bureau's downtown office testifies to the regional marketing campaign. One touting The Beach is stacked next to brochures proclaiming the history of Over-the-Rhine and sightseeing opportunities in Rising Sun, Ind.
The bureau views weekend getaways -- mainly targeting Columbus, Dayton, Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis -- as its bread-and-butter. "Nationally, trends are that families are taking more frequent weekend getaways closer to home," Mr. Lincoln said. On average, he said a family of four can experience a two-night minivacation in Greater Cincinnati for $520.
One weekend getaway called "The Young and the Restless" costs $97-a-person and provides three nights at a selected area hotel, two adult and two children's admissions to Americana Amusement Park near Middletown, the Cincinnati Zoo and Coney Island.
Another, "Rolling Down the River," mixes culture with a riverboat chug down the Ohio River.
For $78 a person, the package is worth two nights at an area hotel, two adult tickets and two children's tickets for the lunch cruise on BB Riverboats and four tickets to either the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.
Nancy Graff, director of sales for BB Riverboats and chairwoman of the Tourism Council of Greater Cincinnati, said collaboration within the local tourism industry enhances the Tristate's attractiveness to out-of-towners.
All hope the collaborative foundation will augment the area's tourism industry in 2000, when an aquarium and millennium tower will anchor Northern Kentucky's riverfront, and, ideally, be matched by two new professional sports stadiums and the Underground Railroad Museum and Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
"The thing is, it is very regional," said Jay Mackey, vice president of MKT Inc., the advertising agency for the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We don't distinguish between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky because the people who come here don't."
Warren County's Robyn Lane understands all too well the hazy geographic view tourists have of Cincinnati.
"We have Kings Island, the ATP (professional tennis) tournament, the Sauerkraut Festival, the Renaissance Festival. We bring gobs of people in, and to most of them, it's all just "Cincinnati.' " With Kings Island, the Golf Center at Kings Island, the Ohio Renaissance Festival and Caesar Creek State Park, tourism is Warren County's second-largest industry. Agriculture is No. 1.
During peak tourist season, as many as 10,000 people are employed in the industry in Warren County.Tourism in the county generated $16.58 million in state and local tax revenues in 1996, Mrs. Lane said.
In Southeastern Indiana, where riverboat casinos sparked new life into sleepy river towns, the May 4 opening of the 300-room Argosy Hotel in Lawrenceburg will fuel more weekend getaways to the Tristate, predicted Debbie Smith, director of the Dearborn County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Bureau, a bureau that didn't exist until August 1995.
"My job is to get them (tourists) into the community," she said. Once in town, gamblers can visit nearby attractions such as the steeples of Oldenberg, the antiques shops in Metamora, the Chateau Pomije Winery in Guilford and Pawpaw's Family Farm in Sparta. To Deborraha Mullins and Frank Carbone, the Tristate is a "gold mine." The pair drove their van up from Mountainview , Ark., to participate in The Fair at Caesar's Creek Pioneer Village over the weekend near Harveysburg.
"We were impressed when we first drove up," Ms. Mullins said. "Its idyllic up here. This location is one of the prettiest I've ever seen."