WARREN - Whether it was a two-day anglers tournament at Mosquito Lake State Park or a five-hour bus tour from West Virginia to places like Wagon Trails Animal Park in Vienna, tourists making their way to Trumbull County generated nearly $450 million in direct and indirect sales for area businesses, a recent study shows.
The Ohio Department of Development Tourism Division study recently released indicated that Tourism in Trumbull County sustained more than 5,700 jobs generating $99.6 million in wages in 2011.
By comparison, Mahoning County tourism last year sustained more than 8,775 jobs and generated more than $157 million in total wages.
Runners wind their way through colorful Mill Creek Park during the 2012 10K Peace Race in October. The annual race contributed to the nearly $590 million in total tourism direct and indirect sales pumped into Mahoning County last year.
''Is there any other industry in the state of Ohio that can provide such a return on investment?" said Stephanie Sferra, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau.
She was expressing excitement at the likelihood that Trumbull County's lodging bed tax this year could produce the highest amount of revenue ever for the bureau.
Revenue generated for the Trumbull tourism bureau comes solely from 2 percent of a hotel bed tax, and figures show this year is on record-setting pace.
Through September, the Trumbull Tourism Bureau received $215,718 from the bed tax, a 14 percent increase over this time last year. Before this year, the highest amount of bed tax generated was a 12-month total of $271,240 in 2007. By September of that year the bed tax had generated $205,657, about $10,000 less than September 2012.
''There is a strong likelihood we are going to exceed our revenue projections by $20,000,'' Sferra told members of the tourism bureau during the group's annual membership meeting last week.
It's impossible to pinpoint exactly what is driving the increased overnight visits to the area, but speculation has ranged from an improving economy, more visits from landmen and engineers in the oil and gas industry and new marketing approaches like improved Internet presence or a "fun mobile" decorated sport utility vehicle that travels around neighboring states generating interest in our area.
Whatever the reason, operators of local lodging venues say the results are real.
''My business picked up in January, and that is really odd,'' said Darcy Krolikowski Miller, owner of the Old Stone House Bed & Breakfast in Mesopotamia.
Miller said her northern Trumbull County bed and breakfast has been benefiting from increases in Ashtabula tourism with visitors to Lake Erie and area wineries. ''They are coming down and spending a night in Amish country, too,'' she said.
The increased traffic meant 100 percent occupancy levels at Old Stone House every weekend through the summer.
''That tells me that things are evening out with the economy,'' Miller said. ''Either that or people just really need to get away."
David Kovass, president of Meander Hospitality Management, which owns several Hampton Inn hotels, including one in Niles and one in Austintown, attributed increases at his hotels more to the natural gas and oil industry than to an improving economy.
''Obviously the oil and gas industry occupancy has picked up,'' Kovass said Tuesday. ''The type of hotels we have, it's not the field workers that are staying here. It's more or less the engineers and landmen that are coming in from out of town.''
Kovass said he wouldn't necessarily tie increased hotel stays to an improving economy. "I don't know that business traffic is really a good indicator of the economy. In 2009 we actually saw an increase in occupancy. Even though we are in a recession, the hotel industry had a pretty good year.''
During last week's meeting, Sferra lauded the hard work of the tourism bureau members.
''All of us are responsible for all the (tourism) money that is pumped into this area,'' Sferra said. "Amazing, isn't it?"