Merging the two tourism bureaus is a possibility, a county director says.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Regionalism is the key to attracting visitors to the Mahoning Valley, according to top tourism promotion officials from Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
"We are all in this together, and we're behaving as though we're all in this separately," said George McCloud, president of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors, which held its inaugural meeting June 1.
McCloud, who also is special assistant to the president for university advancement at Youngstown State University, said the university has a keen interest in attracting and transporting out-of-town visitors to conferences and events it sponsors.
The regional community "deserves a greater, broader span of imagination" focused on attracting visitors to the Mahoning Valley, said McCloud, adding that he hopes the tourism promotion agencies in the two counties work together so closely that visitors "will not notice the seams" between counties and towns.
"If we do that, this will be a region of the country that, in the next decade, people will talk about, whether they're from Chicago or Washington or New York,'' McCloud said.
"Visitors do not know where state or county lines begin or end," said Stephanie Sferra, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau. "This is an industry that is built on partnerships," she said of the travel industry.
Founded last December, her agency has established a highly visible office in the historic Connecticut Western Reserve Land Office building in Warren and formed a Web site, exploretrumbullcounty.com. Her agency is also preparing a 2007 calendar of events, for which Nov. 3 is the deadline for event submissions, and it is writing a visitors' guide for distribution early next year and reintroducing the county to representatives of the travel industry.
McCloud and Sferra spoke to an Athena Leadership Forum titled "The Business of Tourism" today at the Overture Restaurant in downtown's DeYor Performing Arts Center. Sponsored by the Regional Chamber, the Athena program presents awards recognizing outstanding professional women in the Mahoning Valley.
"It would be foolish, from my perspective, if those of us in Mahoning County didn't take advantage of the knowledge and experience that a colleague has in Trumbull County. It would be a lost opportunity that would be inexcusable,'' McCloud said, referring to Sferra.
As to whether the two tourism offices could merge into the same building, Sferra said: "Never say 'never,' because that's a possibility." However, she added that both agencies are in their infancy, and that: "You have to take baby steps before you can run. And since this area has been lacking in a cohesive effort, I think we need to start slowly and then build up."
McCloud said Sferra's comments on merger reflect a "common sense approach" and that tourism officials should begin discussing such a merger as they prepare to put their plans into action.
Sferra said one of her agency's primary focuses will be on the group tour market. The local economic impact generated by a one-bus day trip can be 2,000 and can climb to more than 5,000 if the group stays overnight and more than 9,000 if it stays for two nights, she observed.
"Trumbull County has a diverse tourism product," Sferra said. "It's an area rich in history, the arts, ethnic culture and outdoor activities," and it is Ohio's sixth largest outdoor recreation area, she added. It also has 25 golf courses, she said. "From hiking and biking to fishing and festivals, we offer great getaway ideas for everyone," she concluded.