Sunday, August 24, 2003

Turn in weather salvaging tourism

New ballpark, old standbys drawing fans

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Paramount's Kings Island saw an immediate bounce in park visitors as soon as the rain of spring and early summer let up. Greater Cincinnati hotels, however, report mixed results in luring leisure travelers.
Enquirer file photo

The fortunes of several Greater Cincinnati attractions have risen and fallen with temperatures this summer. But picture-perfect summer days this month are generating hopes for a strong finish.

"Weather has been a real challenge for Cincinnati-area parks this year, probably for the whole Midwest," said Pamela Strickfaden, vice president and general manager of The Beach Waterpark in Mason. "But it is our anticipation that we will end the year in about the same position as last year."

A rainy, cool spring and early summer clouded prospects for big crowds and busy cash registers at outdoor destinations such as The Beach, Paramount's Kings Island, and Coney Island. But as July progressed, things heated up.

"Basically, when the weather was bad, our attendance was bad to mediocre," said Vic Nolting, president of Coney Island. "When it was good, our attendance was strong. Our pool portion was down 10 to 12 percent because of the weather. But, overall, we're actually ahead of last year - which was a record year for us."

Said Maureen Boothe, marketing communications area manager for Paramount's Kings Island: "We're just about where we were last year - slightly down but not enough to get excited about. There has been great interest in our new attractions: Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle, SpongeBob SquarePants 3D and Delirium."

The market was there, evidenced by an immediate bounce in park visitors as soon as rain let up, representatives of all three parks said.

"There was clearly a pent-up feeling - people wanting to get out and enjoy themselves after our snowy winter," Strickfaden said.

The Cincinnati Reds' fortunes have also risen and fallen this season. Although attendance at the Great American Ball Park has not hit projections, it's up over the old stadium in the same period last year, according to the team's media relations manager, Chuck Kirlin.

"This year, through 64 dates (into mid-August), we've sold 1,918,497 tickets, for an average of 29,977 tickets per date," Kirlin said. "Last year for the same period of 64 dates, we sold 1,495,449, for an average of 23,336 per date."

Collaboration and cross-marketing with the Reds organization is one factor that has contributed to a grand-slam summer at the Cincinnati Museum Center. The two organizations have made a joint pitch to fans in anticipation of CMC's "Baseball as America" exhibit that opened this month. The center also had two Omnimax films running.

"We can't get the doors open fast enough in the morning. Crowds are there, waiting for us," CMC spokesman Rodger Pille said. "The opening of the new Reds park in the spring coincided with the opening of our Civil War exhibit, 'Liberty on the Border.' It opened very strong for us, and we've had a great summer."

Excitement about the new ballpark has brought folks to Cincinnati from other cities in the region, but they want to do more than watch baseball, Pille said.

"In talking to people in from out of town, they want more than one thing to do. Our attendance is tied fairly often with a trip to a ball game. And families know they can visit us no matter what is going on with the weather."

Hotels reported mixed results.

Donna Lewis, general manager of the Drawbridge Inn, Fort Mitchell, said June was surprisingly slow, but July picked up a bit. "Overall, it's been down" compared with last year, she said. "It's the economy. We are one of the last industries to recover from a recession."

Lewis also said sales of the hotel's Reds packages were down.

But across the river, Lisa Carrere, director of sales and marketing for the Millennium hotel complex downtown, said: "This has been a blowout summer for us. Our leisure and transient room nights from May through August are up 64 percent over last year."

She said the hotel's occupancy ran 90 percent and above on weekends. Sales of tourism packages went well, too, she said.

"I definitely think the new ballpark has helped us," she added, citing a short walk to Great American from the hotel.

Further north, Donna Kohler, front office manager of the Clarion hotel in Blue Ash, said business was down this summer.

"It's been down since September 11," she said, referring to the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001. "Business travel is about the same as usual, but families just aren't traveling as much."

Several collaborations have been working to boost attendance at local attractions and the hotels.

"We do a lot of business with hotels as well as joint programs with convention and visitors bureaus," Strickfaden said. "Whoever's working hard is getting the business; it's important to have packages and special offers to drive people to make these decisions."

The Newport Aquarium has also teamed up with area convention and visitors bureaus to promote itself. The results have been beneficial, said Jill Isaacs, the aquarium's public relations manager.

"We don't have official numbers, but comparing our attendance with this time last year, we're up double-digit percentages since the opening of the turtle exhibit April 12," she said.

Most of the sea turtles will stick around until late fall. Next June, the aquarium unveils its $4.5 million expansion, which includes a new river otter exhibit.


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