Tourism spending in Ohio rebounded in 2021 after COVID took its toll
Tourism in Ohio rebounded last year after a pandemic-induced slump.
That was the news from the Ohio Department of Development Wednesday, which released its economic impact data at the annual Ohio Tourism Day at the Statehouse .
Lydia Mihalik, the department’s director, called the numbers a “pleasant surprise.”
Tourism accounted for around $47 billion in spending in 2021, making it the second best year on record, she said.
The top spot went to 2019, which saw $48 billion in tourism spending, according to the department’s figures. Tourist spending dipped to $38 billion in 2020.
The state welcomed 219 million visitors last year and tourists supported 411,000 jobs, according to the department of development.
Ohio’s convenient location and abundance of state routes and interstates are conducive to travel, Lydia Mihalik said.
“Ohio is easy to travel to, and easy to travel around,” she said.
‘That post-COVID bump’: As Ohio attractions see rise of tourism, officials worry about gas prices
Tourism officials and officials at Ohio attractions attributed the 2021 rebound to pent-up demand.
The Ohio Renaissance Festival, which takes place on weekends in the summer and fall on a 35-acre theme park near Harveysburg, had an above-average season last year, Entertainment Director David Smith said.
“I think it was that post-COVID bump,” he said. “Everybody just wanted to get out.”
But record-high gas prices, which threaten to curtail the family vacations that tourist attractions depend on, worry officials like Dan Hostetler, director of the Medina County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Gas prices are not going to be good for us, but hopefully (tourists) will do smaller-scale vacations throughout Ohio” and boost in-state spending, Hostetler said.
That spending could make up for a lack of travelers from out-of-state, he said.
The tourism report’s numbers come with caveats, said Jonathan Ernest, an assistant professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Direct spending is easy to assess, and there is no question that tourism spending supports hospitality jobs, but simple dollar figures don’t tell the whole story, he said.
We know how much money was spent on an individual attraction like the Columbus Zoo or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he said. But if the Zoo and the Rock Hall didn’t exist, would travelers have supported competing tourist attractions instead?
“That’s more difficult to measure,” Ernest said.
For his part, Smith, with the Renaissance Festival, remained upbeat.
“We watch other festivals across the country, and everyone is hitting them in the same numbers,” he said.
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