The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - It doesn't have Major League baseball, professional football, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or a major body of water.
But central Ohio is the fastest-growing travel region in the state, according to the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism.
Overnight visits to central Ohio for business and pleasure grew by 22.5 percent to 12 million last year, the division said. Southeast Ohio had 19.4 percent growth, up to 3.7 million trips.
But travel to Northwest Ohio was down 9.6 percent from 2002, to 6.6 million and overnight visits to Southwest Ohio declined 6.8 percent to 9.6 million.
The study said Northeast Ohio suffered a 8.6 percent drop to 13.8 million, although a spokesman for the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland disputed that number, citing statistics from a different survey.
The study also reported that central Ohio became the leading destination for day trips in the state, attracting 35 million visitors.
Tourism officials said central Ohio's popularity could be on the rise because of entertainment and retail attractions such as the Arena District surrounding Nationwide Arena, and the Easton Town Center and Polaris Fashion Place shopping malls.
Columbus also appears to have benefited from the fear of air travel, which began in 2001 with the terrorist attacks and the weakening economy.
"People still want to stay closer to home," said Kari Kauffman, director of tourism for Experience Columbus.
"Perhaps they're still afraid to fly so they want to drive to close-by destinations," she said.
In southeast Ohio, cabin construction is continuing at the same pace as the past three years, about 60 units per year, said Randie Adam of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association.
Lodging taxes collected in Hocking County grew 21 percent last year to nearly $658,000, Adam said.
Amir Eylon, Ohio's assistant travel director, said the decline in northeast Ohio could be attributed to the economy still being in the recovery stage.
"Northeast Ohio gets a tremendous amount of corporate travel coming through," he said.
"Most companies (there) say their business-travel sector is still suffering."
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