Friday, September 28, 2001

Tourism promoters struggling

Safety foremost issue in attracting visitors here

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sherree Allgood has invited more than two dozen travel writers from around the Midwest to tour Greater Cincinnati next week.

        Responses so far? Only one, from AAA Travel here in town.

        “It's hard to call someone and say, "Please come to our city,'” said Ms. Allgood, communications manager for the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau. “In the next breath, they say, "Is it safe?'”

        Those trying to recruit tourists and businesses to Greater Cincinnati have been wrestling with those image problems since street riots in April, and the sporadic violence after Wednes day's acquittal of a Cincinnati police officer won't help, they said.

        After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York City and Washington, D.C., the riots and Cincinnati's image are no longer at the top of anybody's priority list.

        But they remain a long-term stumbling block to any resuscitation of the local economy, not to mention long-term growth in population and jobs..

        The slowing economy, the Comair pilots' strike and the riots have combined to put a serious crimp in visitors' dollars. Hotel receipts dropped 26 percent in July in Cincinnati, compared to July 2000.

        Those hotel rooms produce tax dollars that support local convention and visitors groups. That means there are fewer funds to support marketing campaigns that might bring more people to this area.

        “It's a problem, and we need to actively work on it,” said Phil Cox, president of Cox Financial Corp. and vice chairman of the Cincinnati Business Committee.

        For those charged with spreading positive publicity about Greater Cincinnati, the last few months have been difficult. The last positive national publicity came from ABC and MSNBC, which showed portions of the prayer service on Fountain Square Sept. 14.

        Thursday morning, people across the nation awoke to news about Cincinnati on CNN, CNBC, National Public Radio and newspapers.

        The media outlets reported the not-guilty verdict for Officer Stephen Roach, who had been charged with two misdemeanors after shooting and killing an unarmed black man who was fleeing police in April, the incident which set off the riots.

        But the media treatment was far milder than in April, when the riots were the lead story on national broadcasts such as NBC's Today show.

        Jerry Malsh, head of local ad agency J. Malsh & Co. and a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati, said the terrorist attacks have a lot to do with that.

        “A lot of the angst has been dissipated,” Mr. Malsh said. “It's a problem; yet it's a saner, more objective problem that has to be solved, rather than a subjective, emotional problem.”

        As part of the final exam for Mr. Malsh's class, 45 juniors and seniors will create advertising campaigns promoting Greater Cincinnati as a destination.

        That is part of the work Ms. Allgood does every day to try to bring people to Northern Kentucky. She said interest among travel writers in visiting here was virtually nonexistent from April through early summer, but picked up again in August.

        For example, travel writers from Louisville and suburban Cleveland have visited here, and one trade publication is doing a story on the Ambassadors at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        The terrorist attack “puts things in perspective for me, because there aren't travel writers going to Disney World or Las Vegas, either,” Ms. Allgood said. “If there's anything positive in any of this, it's that the Greater Cincinnati economy is not based on tourism.”


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