Friday, July 19, 2002

All things considered, many skip long trips

Summer vacation now a day at the (local) beach

By Erica Solvig,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Wall Street's volatility, a slumping economy and fears of flying in a post-Sept. 11 world have brought significant changes to the annual tradition of summer vacations.

        Travel experts throughout the region say more families are making day trips than in recent summers, choosing to find their thrills a bit closer to home rather than venturing to long-distance, out-of-state destinations.

[photo] The wave pool at The Beach Waterpark is one of the recreation spots favored by Tristaters.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        Tristate tourist attractions — from The Beach Waterpark in Warren County to the Newport Aquarium — are enjoying a booming business, with attendance up as much as 50 percent from last summer.

        “Mostly due to the economic downturn, people are looking for more things to do closer to home this summer,” said Amir Eylon, Ohio's interim tourism director. “People are taking more short weekend, long weekend trips instead of a two-week, pack-up-the-car-and-head-West vacation.”

        Count Shawna Clements of Monroe among those sticking closer to home this summer.

        “It's easy, it's quick to get to and it's convenient,” she said Tuesday while splashing at The Beach with her husband, Tim, and 13-month-old daughter Alexis.

        The Mason water park, which opened Memorial Day weekend, has seen about 20 percent more visitors than it had at this point last season.

        “We definitely expected an increase because, with the effect of September 11, you're not going to see as many people going to ... the beaches,” said Tara Nahrup, the park's media and public relations manager. “People coming here from the area and Northern Kentucky are making a weekend out of it.”

        National travel researchers say that security concerns stemming from the Sept. 11 terror attacks were an initial reason that travelers were picking local spots to visit. Many people were afraid to fly or visit major attractions.

[photo] Tracy Leonard of Indian Springs holds her daughter near the wave pool at The Beach.
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        But now, it's mainly economic.

        The Travel Industry Association of America is predicting car trips for pleasure will be up about 3 percent this summer. Roughly one-third of people hitting the highways point to cost, according to the Washington-based nonprofit association.

        “For a lot of people, driving is also much more convenient,” said Sandra Guile, public relations coordinator with AAA in Cincinnati. “You pack the kids — and the dog, if you want — and go.”

        Especially before the Fourth of July holiday weekend, AAA saw an increase in requests for TripTiks to local tourist attractions and cities that are easy to drive to, such as Chicago and Gatlinburg, Tenn.

        Gatlinburg is one of several destinations that Tracy Leonard of Butler County's Fairfield Township said her family is planning to spend time at this summer — in addition to the local hot spots.

        “We usually try to make it out here a couple of times each summer,” said Ms. Leonard, 32, as two of her three kids played in the wave pool at The Beach on Tuesday afternoon.

        Increased marketing — including the “Cincy Fun” joint marketing campaign — is playing a role as well, said Margaret Drexel, marketing director with the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau teamed up with visitors bureaus in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky for the $600,000 campaign aimed at attracting visitors from across the Midwest.

        Higher temperatures are another plus.

        “It's been a much hotter summer, which lead to a much stronger June,” said Mary Schumacher, Coney Island's vice president of sales and marketing. “These days of 90-degree weather have been good to us.”

        Admissions are up 50 percent over last year for the Anderson Township park, she said.

        Spring rain, however, led to a slow start to the season at Paramount's Kings Island, causing attendance to be down slightly from last year. Spokesman Jeff Siebert said officials are “very optimistic about the remainder of the year,” extending the park's daily operating schedule by one week to Aug. 30.

        The park is celebrating its 30th anniversary season. An estimated 3.36 million visitors passed through its turnstiles last year.

        Comparatively, attendance at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, is up 6 percent from last year.

        While smaller amusement parks around the country are thriving, large tourist attractions such as Disney World also are reporting high attendance, said Tim O'Brien, a senior editor at Amusement Business Magazine in Nashville, Tenn.

        “It's happening everywhere,” he said. “It seems like everyone is doing well. It's like a mixed bag.”

        In addition to local travel, Coney Island and Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom also draw regional visitors. Attendance at the Louisville theme park is about even with last year's figures.

        “We draw most of our attendance from within a 150-mile radius,” said Amy Ballard-Riley, public relations manager.

        While Cincinnatians might be traveling to Louisville, the Newport Aquarium has noticed an increase in visitors from Louisville.

        “Fewer people are taking longer vacations — they're taking more shorter trips,” said David Palmer, marketing director. “Everyone is so busy and has so little time. It's easier to get away from work for a shorter period of time.”

        That's the ticket for Tom Kenny and his 7-year-old son Jack. The New Jersey duo were visiting family in Mason this week and had made trips to several area attractions, including Kings Island and The Beach.

        “It's pretty much what we do,” said Mr. Kenny, 42. “We don't take many big vacations, just a lot of day trips and hanging around the house.”



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