MARIETTA - Tourism had a $191 million impact on Washington County's economy in 2011, an increase of $11 million over the amount generated by tourism in 2010, according to a report released last week by the Ohio Department of Development.
The report is generated for ODOD by Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of England-based Oxford Economics, to provide detailed information, including the impact of the state's tourist industry on the state and local economies.
"We receive this report every other year, and it's showing a slow, steady increase in our leisure travel market," said Jeri Knowlton, director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The American Queen riverboat stopped in Marietta earlier this week. The boat is docked for passengers visit the local sites and amenities in the area.
She said tourism's economic impact in Washington County in 2010 was $180 million, and it was $166 million in 2009.
"In 2008 the impact was $182 million, but then the recession hit and we've been slowly recovering from that," Knowlton said.
She said Tourism Economics uses a complex but proven formula to obtain figures released in the report.
The top three categories receiving the most sales impact from local tourism were retail/trade, food and beverage and lodging.
"The largest impact was on retail/trade," Knowlton said. "Lodging was in third place, behind food and beverage sales."
Bed tax numbers released Thursday show increases as well.
Bed tax collections for the second quarter of 2012 showed revenues at $94,060.12; an increase of nearly 33 percent from the same time period in 2011.
The 2011 state report says tourism had a total impact of $49 million on retail sales, $34 million on sales of food and beverages and $25 million on lodging.
"Those were the top three categories here and that's consistent with what we've seen in the past," Knowlton said.
She noted lower impacts on other categories, including $16 million for transportation and $6.7 million on recreation and entertainment.
Knowlton said retail likely receives the highest impact because Washington County is a strong day-trip market where people travel then return home on the same day, but they shop at local stores and make other retail purchases while they're here.
The report also notes 1,691 tourism-related jobs were sustained in 2011, up from 1,629 in 2009.
"Those include, among others, 601 positions in the food and beverage sector, 199 in retail, 195 in recreation and entertainment, 162 in lodging, and 102 in the transportation industry," Knowlton said.
The local impact is mirrored at the state level, according to Tamara Brown, public relations manager for ODOD's Tourism Division, who said retail is always the No. 1 industry impacted by tourism.
"Shopping is always right at the top of people's activities when they come to Ohio," she said. "They like to buy unique items made here-maybe take home some food from a visit to the Amish country. That's why we heavily advertise out of state."
Brown said for every tax dollar invested in tourism advertising, $14 is spent by tourists who come to Ohio. And research shows visitors from outside the state spend up to three times as much when they come to Ohio, compared to tourists who live within the state.
"We're doing all we can to market the state and its attractions, and the Tourism Economics reports are very well respected and valuable," she said. "We feel we're getting back good research for our investment."
Terry Tamburini, executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority, said tourism plays a key role in economic development by continually finding new ways to market this area.
"The things that make Washington County unique obviously include the history in Marietta and the county's proximity to the Ohio and Muskingum rivers," he said. "But we have to keep working to implement new reasons for people to come here."
Tamburini said the key is to give visitors reasons to keep coming back to the area so they don't feel like they've seen it all before.
"The Colony Theatre and improvements to the Mid-Ohio Valley Players, and the planetarium at Marietta College are things that help keep people coming back," he said.
Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Charlotte Keim said the tourism report is valuable information, but added that she would like to see a better breakdown of which visitors to the area are business travelers and which are actual tourists.
"Tourists will spend a lot more money in a community just seeing the sites," she said. "Business travelers usually spend money to eat in a restaurant close to their hotel, then go back to their rooms."
Keim said tourists look for unique, locally-made products and foods when they visit a town.
"They're on vacation and spending vacation dollars, and that's good for Marietta," she said.