Sunday, June 20, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Boosting tourism hard work

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There are 203 events listed and 14 African-American tourism-related services in the 1998-99 calendar of events created for the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau.

        Although the print is tiny and events can be a reach (is the opening of the Beach Waterpark really a significant moment?) entrepreneur Larry Brown has no doubt that fliers like this one can boost the balance sheet of businesses involved in tourism.

        “It can have a big impact, but nobody is going to come up to you and ask for a flier,” Mr. Brown said. “You've got to get it to them. The more brochures that are out there, the more chances you have of somebody calling you.”

        Even with the bureau's brochure collecting an award, Mr. Brown — involved in tourism in Cincinnati for nearly a decade as co-owner of City Tours and L.B.Van Travel Service — said he is not optimistic that the region's tourism engine is going to kick into overdrive anytime soon.

        “In Cincinnati, the first thing half of our hotel people say when asked is there's nothing to see in Cincinnati. We have letters from people telling us that,” he said. “One guy looked for a tour for two days and was told there was nobody like us out there. Finally, he found us.”

        What the man got for $25 was a two-hour tour, a sandwich and a glimpse of all the attractions the city has to offer. Co-owner of the company with his wife, Dolores, Mr. Brown said the firm provides city tours and transportation for tourists on two vans.

        Mr. Brown said he has distributed his own brochures through hotels, but policies vary from hotel to hotel. At the Westin Hotel, city tour brochures are kept in a drawer behind the desk. People have to ask for them, said a Westin hotel employee.

        At the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati, brochures are available in a central area, said Don Jones, rooms division manager, and brochures for Mr. Brown's company were also at the concierge's desk as a service to customers.

        Mr. Brown is a 70-year-old entrepreneur who started City Tours and L.B. Van and Travel in 1990. He is no longer a member of the bureau, even though his company is still listed on the 1998-1999 Greater Cincinnati African American Calendar of Events, said Gayle Harden-Renfro, communications director for the bureau.

        The calendar received first place in the “Brochures & Guides” category from the magazine Black Meetings & Tourism to recognize advertising and promotional pieces.

        Ms. Harden-Renfro said the bureau cannot control how brochures are or are not distributed at hotels or at the information booth at the airport. However, the bureau's annual membership fee of $450 means companies will be included in visitor guides placed in hotel rooms, she said.

        Mr. Brown continues to produce his own brochures and distributes them where he can.

        “This can be a tourist city, but you have to work at it,” Mr. Brown said.

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for the Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? E-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com, and he will find the expert with the answers.

       



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