Tuesday, April 09, 2002

N. Ky. to promote Ohio, too

Tourism officials say area is all one to visitors

By Patrick Crowley pcrowley@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — “The Southern Side of Cincinnati” has seen a drop in tourism at least partly caused by last year's riots and this spring's boycott of downtown Cincinnati, a tourism official says.

        But Northern Kentucky tourism officials — who refer to the region as Cincinnati's south side in advertising campaigns — are pulling together money for a joint summer marketing push that would also involve Cincinnati and Warren County.

        The campaign will be designed to boost Northern Kentucky's sagging tourism market, where business dropped 13 percent last year.

        Called “Cincy Fun,” the advertising campaign would tout major attractions in all three communities:

        • The Cincinnati Reds in downtown Cincinnati.

        • The Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky.

        • Paramount's Kings Island amusement park in Warren County.

        Details, such as how much money will be raised and spent for the campaign, are still being worked out, said Tom Caradonio, president of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        “We want to push Cincinnati as a fast, friendly, affordable getaway,” Mr. Caradonio said Monday. “We're looking to get to people who will drive in to here, hitting the obvious targets of Columbus, Indianapolis, Lexington, Louisville, Dayton.

        “Because when you bring people into this area for an attraction, whether it's here or across the river, it helps the entire tourism industry,” he said.

        When tourism in Cincinnati takes a hit, Northern Kentucky feels it, said Jim Willman, president of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors.

        And that's how the riot and the boycott have affected tourism in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties, Mr. Willman said Monday.

        He pointed to the cancellation of the 10,000-member

        Progressive National Baptist convention in August in Cincinnati. Organizers canceled after being contacted by boycott promoters.

        “Northern Kentucky is not a market, Greater Cincinnati is the tourism market,” Mr. Willman said. “Hotel rooms in Northern Kentucky were lost when that convention canceled.”

Fewer visits, less spending

        The Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau announced last month that visitor spending dropped 13 percent to $211 million in 2001. While other factors contributed to the decrease, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and last summer's Comair strike, Cincinnati's racial problems also played a role.

        “From what people up there have told me, the problems in Cincinnati have hurt tourism in Northern Kentucky,” Kentucky Tourism Cabinet Secretary Ann Latta said Monday from Frankfort.

        “There's also been a decrease in business travel because of the economy, and that's going to hurt Northern Kentucky because the Cincinnati area is a business travel destination,” Ms. Latta said.

        “But summer is coming, people are looking to take vacations so you have to keep marketing and let people know what you have to offer the leisure traveler,” she said. ;

Cincy Fun

        That's the idea behind the Cincy Fun campaign, Mr. Caradonio said.

        The Northern Kentucky bureau has some money in reserve but is hoping to come up with more cash through the sale of its former visitors center in Covington's MainStrasse Village.

        The center had a budget of $125,000 to $140,000 and the building might sell for $900,000 or more, Mr. Caradonio said. Some of that money could be used for the campaign.

        The bureau has lobbied county officials in Northern Kentucky to approve a 1 cent increase in the region's hotel tax. That revenue could also be used for marketing.

        Greater Cincinnati had its worst tourism year in 2001 in at least 15 years. Hotel occupancy plunged to 50.1 percent — the lowest rate among 82 metropolitan areas last year, according to Smith Travel Research.

        Mr. Caradonio was encouraged by Monday's vote by the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police to tentatively ratify a settlement in a racial profiling lawsuit against the city.

        If the agreement is approved by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott the boycott might be dropped.

        And the Northern Kentucky bureau continues to use “The South Side of Cincinnati” in its own marketing campaigns.

        “We are not just linked to Cincinnati,” Mr. Willman said. “We are a part of Cincinnati, especially to people who are from outside this area.”

Aquarium thriving

        Despite an overall drop in Northern Kentucky tourism the Newport Aquarium has not suffered because of Cincinnati's problems, Executive Vice President David Wechsler said Monday.

        Mr. Wechsler would not divulge figures but said attendance last week while many schools were closed for spring break was up over the same week from last year.

        “We had a fantastic week,” said Mr. Wechsler, who oversees marketing for the 3-year-old, $40 million riverfront attraction. “We just haven't been affected by what has taken place in Cincinnati.

        “I think a lot of people have put the riots behind them and the boycott hasn't gotten the national attention to the point where it is hurting our business.”


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