Valley tourism bureaus say targeted advertising brings tourists

Dave Sess talks to the local tourism bureaus about how they make advertising decisions for the region.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Looking through an Ohio travel magazine, anchor/reporter Dave Sess saw little to no mention of the Youngstown region. He decided to go directly to the source — the local tourism bureaus — to find out why many of the Valley’s notable landmarks were not mentioned.

There is no shortage of places to visit in the Youngstown area. Fellows Riverside Gardens attracts 100,000 visitors a year, and other popular destinations include the National Packard Museum, Lanterman’s Mill, even Mosquito Lake.

In addition, Mahoning and Trumbull counties have 3,300 hotel rooms to fill.

“Since September 2014, we’ve had four new properties added in Mahoning County,” said Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The local tourism bureaus say it is not how many ads are placed in local travel magazines but when they are placed.

Trumbull County paid $7,500 for a four-page article with pictures that appeared in the June issue of Ohio magazine and said the advertisement paid off.

“We hit a home run,” said Stephanie Sferra, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Board

Mahoning County has done the same thing in the spring issues for the last two years and has also seen great benefits. The “pay-to-play” system works to get in these travel magazines at the times when counties believe they will get the most bang for the buck, instead of smaller ads every month, which would not have the same reach.

“I’m so happy with the response. We are up over 13,000 requests for information,” Macala said.

Mahoning County will spend $115,000 this year to get the word out, while Trumbull County has spent more than $80,000. Both counties’ tourism bureaus say the money was a good investment.

“Everybody keeps stats,” said Sferra. “We’re marketing people. We can tell by our hotel revenue — the tax that’s collected by the county from the visitor.”

Every time someone books a hotel room, for a wedding or just a weekend getaway, they are paying a 5 percent bed tax to the county in which they are staying. Trumbull County generated $700,000 last year, while Mahoning County generated more than $1 million.

That money is shared among the county, Port Authority and convention and visitors bureaus, and it is the sole source of their funding.

“Right now, we’re holding about $20,000 more than what we collected for the same time period last year,” said Sferra. “That’s pretty good.”

To get the word out about the Valley’s popular destinations, the convention and visitors bureaus work with Tourism Ohio and other publications throughout the Midwest. Many times, they do so through paid advertorials.

A picture can lead to planning a trip in an instant. Ohio’s official travel guide gives Mahoning and Trumbull counties free listings, and sometimes, even a picture. But the local tourism bureaus know what drives interest and what time of year to make sure that message reaches travelers and help them choose a destination.

“If that’s helping achieve putting heads in beds, then we’re achieving our goal,” said Sferra.

“We realize we’re not a Tier 1 Disney World, Las Vegas destination, but we are a wonderful place to come for a weekend getaway,” said Macala.

Tourism pumps big bucks into the local economy. Trumbull County says a three-day gymnastics tournament in April added $120,000 and that tourism added $480 million of total economic impact in 2013.

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