Friday, January 11, 2002

Ohio's attraction

It's an undiscovered country

        Quick! What is Ohio's slogan?

        Come on, we spent $2.6 million to come up with it just last spring. It ought to be on the tip of everybody's tongue.

        Ohio the heart of it all?

        Nope. That was the old slogan. It was a perfectly good, sappy, pointless description that we retired after 17 years.

        Birthplace of aviation?

        Wrong again. That's a popular license plate logo that we claimed after a wrestling match with North Carolina.

        With God all things are possible?

        Strike three! That's the state motto, carved into the Statehouse sidewalk just in case we want to scapegoat the Almighty for acts of the General Assembly.

        The real slogan of the Buckeye state, researched and developed by an Akron public relations firm, and designed to snag any wayward tourist dollars that might drift across the Midwest, is:

        Ohio so much to discover!


        It hasn't exactly caught fire yet. In fact, tourism and travel to Ohio is not exactly booming. We are at best a rest stop on the road to somewhere else. The failure to establish Ohio as a favored vacation destination helps explain why Jim Epperson, the state's director of travel and tourism, “resigned” this week.

        Mr. Epperson's office is part of the Department of Development. When Gov. Bob Taft appointed Bruce Johnson to head Development last year, he made it clear he wanted tourism “stepped up,” with more vigorous promotion. It didn't happen, and now Mr. Epperson is gone.

        Part of the problem, according to the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association, is that Ohio doesn't spend enough on tourism promotion. The state budgeted $6.3 million this year and $6.3 million for next year to promote its attractions. That's down from $6.4 million in 1995, when Ohio's spending on tourism promotion was only 35th out of the 50 states.

        Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania all spend more.

        Mary Anne Sharkey, the governor's communications director, says the problem isn't how much is spent, but how well it is spent. She has a point. When you only have $6.3 million, it doesn't help to blow more than a third of it on a slogan nobody remembers.

        The slogan, by the way, was created after serious research with a number of focus groups. The money spent on it includes a promotional campaign and a magazine, which makes the fact that nobody has heard of it all the more disappointing.

        I asked Ms. Sharkey just what the state hoped everyone would discover. She mentioned Lake Erie's islands, and the Cedar Point and Kings Island amusement parks.

        Well, those places are nice, but Lake Erie ain't no ocean and there aren't very many people who would travel across the country for a roller coaster ride. Besides, she left out Seven Caves and the Waynesville Sauerkraut Festival.

        Serious vacation planners might “discover” that Ohio doesn't have surfing, deep sea fishing, mountain climbing, casino gambling, first-run Broadway shows, great weather or movie stars.

        What the state really hopes, of course, is that Ohioan's will “discover” that it is nice to stay home and spend their money rather than take vacations elsewhere. And that is a good idea. Ohio isn't Las Vegas or Hawaii, but it has plenty of great spots to get away for the weekend. Lest some critics think that I am dissing Ohio, please be assured that I actually like it here. I just think we sometimes make a cottage industry out of being boring.

        Ms. Sharkey didn't dispute the dullness of the new slogan, and said Columbus might be open to suggestions for something better. “We're open to new ideas,” she said. Okay, as long as she asked for it, let's come up with some suggestions. Readers who think they have catchy slogans that trip off the tongue, send them along to me at the Web address printed below. I'll pass them along to the governor's office and won't even ask for the going rate of $2.6 million.

        Here's my first suggestion, courtesy of Ms. Sharkey:

        Ohio, we're open to new ideas!

        Contact David Wells at 768-8310; fax: 768-8610; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Wells.


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