Sunday, November 30, 2003

Hey, girlfriend, let's take a trip



By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Shoppers check out the windows in downtown Lebanon along Broadway Street on Saturday.
(Tony Jones photo)
Georgia Porter and her best gal pals try to get away without the husbands at least twice a year, taking trips to Gatlinburg and Lake Cumberland to catch up and relax.

"One minute, we're pampering ourselves and sitting in the hot tubs, and the next day we're building a campfire and fishing," said the married Loveland mother of two. "It's fun because we don't have to wait on anyone, and we don't have a time frame."

Two of the region's largest tourism agencies - the Warren County and Greater Cincinnati convention and visitors bureaus - are hoping to nab more women like Porter and get them to book their next weekend at Tristate attractions: from Indiana's riverboats to downtown's stores and restaurants to the amusement parks and antique shops in Warren County.

The new "girlfriend getaway" effort is part of the bureaus' separate 2004 marketing campaigns to promote tourism, which is a $3.4 billion industry in the Greater Cincinnati region.

The idea calls for groups of women - mothers, daughters, cousins, friends and the like - to book a package through the bureaus. Trips would center on different festivals, destinations or activities around the area.

"It's about the experience of being together," said Cheryl Roysdon, advertising director for the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Girls have been doing this for some time. But now it's recognized as a good marketing opportunity."

And girls don't just want to have fun, they also want to spend money. Research shows women make as much as 85 percent of household spending decisions. That's a major reason to target females 30 to 60 years old, Roysdon said.

"Tourism isn't just something you do for fun," said Julie Calvert, vice president of communications for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's real numbers and real jobs."

Tourism provides nearly 700,000 jobs statewide, and travelers spend $27.1 billion annually in Ohio.

It's Warren County's leading industry, with 6.5 million visitors generating $410 million a year thanks to attractions like Paramount's Kings Island, Fort Ancient State Memorial, and Ohio's oldest inn, the Golden Lamb.

Greater Cincinnati's convention bureau purchased the domain name, www.girlfriendgetaways.com earlier this year. The bureau is currently developing different vacation itineraries, and will formally announce their "Let's Go Girls" marketing campaign in January.

That campaign, while separate from Warren County's, is aimed at attracting tourists to the counties in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio - including Warren County.

"We have the types of activities that women would enjoy, whether it's shopping, spa visits, a visit to the casinos or fine dining," said Angela Berrigan, Greater Cincinnati bureau's vice president of marketing and tourism. "You can basically cherry pick different activities. It's trans-generational."

Targeting women travelers

Local tourism leaders are jumping on a national industry trend. While the Travel Industry Association of America has no formal statistics, it has noticed more and more hotels, shopping malls and regional tourism bureaus are offering girls-only trips.

In Philadelphia, for example, the Girlfriends Hotel Package has been tied to such events as the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, offering women a one or two-night deal at several area hotels.

"It's something that seems to be a buzz right now," said Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the national group that tracks tourism issues and trends. "People are not saying, 'I can only take one family trip.' They are venturing out a little more.

"What people are looking for is something that is easy to get to, it's economical, it's fun and it's quick ... I can see this being very popular, especially for professional women."

For Judi Campbell, a registered nurse from Hamilton, these girls-only excursions are also a chance to catch up with lifelong friends she does not see frequently. They get together and go antiquing in Waynesville and Lebanon once every couple of months because of the quaint stores and the "stepping back in time" feeling.

"We don't even care about the bargains," said Campbell, a married mother of three grown children. "We just go for the fun of it and hit a good restaurant."

More families, more business

Warren County also is researching other niche markets, like male golf outings and grandparent/grandchild weekends. It also is expanding its marketing efforts out-of-state - even to Ontario.

"The major focus is still the family and getting them here to stay and play," said bureau Executive Director Shirley Bonekemper. "These are added markets where as our budget allows, we can attract more people."

Warren County's convention bureau is not sure how much money will be dedicated to the girlfriend marketing campaign because it is still determining in what publications it will advertise.

The campaign should mean more business for people like Sandy Eves, who runs the Kirkwood Inn in Mason and works with her family at LaComedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro.

The inn is restoring a 200-year-old home, which she believes will be a big draw for women when combined with the nearby shopping in Mason and Lebanon.

"More and more especially professional women are enjoying doing things with friends," said Eves, who does the same with her friends. "Women want to take care of themselves, get away and relax a bit."

E-mail esolvig@enquirer.com




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