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By Peter Huston

What will Put-in-Bay look like in 2030? Or perhaps a better way to think of this is “who do we want to be”? Currently Lake Erie Shores and Islands is our “brand” for the greater Erie and Ottawa County areas. Our local bed tax dollars go into helping to fund the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau, aka LESI. LESI’s mission is to promote our island and the “shores and island” region. Most importantly they are tasked with putting “heads in beds”, keeping our lodging partners busy.

As Put-in-Bay continues to grow our own “brand” we are now able to accommodate more over night guests than ever before. For years our island economy has thrived on “day trippers” but the long-term focus is trending towards extending our season and increasing the awareness of the Lake Erie region, especially the islands here in the western basin.

So with these two entwined missions in mind, LESI is embarking on research to help us to meet our islands goals. I don’t know if we have ever really put those “goals’ to paper, but it is an important concept. As islanders we often express our interest in certain types of visitors we want. We like business groups, sports tournaments, weddings, families and couples. We encourage adventure tourism and outdoor enthusiasts. We worry about young 20 some things that come only to test their alcohol limits, but welcome them back as 40 year olds reliving their past.

But really the bigger picture for us as a region is how to increase our success and do it in a way that makes us (and our visitors) happy to be here. This idea starts with what we envision our island should be. I know that corralling this idea is akin to herding cats. Some are excited to welcome all, others have very specific demographics that they find appealing.

LESI wants to better assist us in this thought process by shaping it’s organization so that it can help us to better achieve our own goals. Whether it is through strategic marketing or bricks and mortar investment, the long-term idea is to strengthen our business base through smart growth that we can sustain.

Right now sports marketing and organized activities like marathons, soccer, volleyball and softball tournaments are growing in popularity. These events don’t have to be charity oriented anymore, in fact many groups run tournament competitions and 5K runs as a business.

For Put-in-Bay, attracting groups that have a specific focus like sports, cars, or boating may have more long-term sustainability. The Journal of Sport and Tourism had a recent article by Hinch, Higham and Moyle called “Sports Tourism and Sustainable Destinations”.

“Destinations serve as the spatial context and reference point for this special issue. They are, in essence, the place where sport tourism is produced and consumed.1 Whether sport tourism development takes the form of sport events, active participation or sport heritage activities, it draws on local resources and forms part of the complex dynamic of community life” 2

So sports minded youth and adults utilizing local facilities, food and lodging on a regular basis could be a top choice. But,there are many options open to us. I bring this up because the Bass Islands are a great example of a “community foundation” for business growth. Let’s look at Mackinac Island for instance. When we visited them this winter we discovered that they had identified weddings as a growth industry. One business owner I spoke with had embraced this, and opened a formal wear rental shop. They had over 750 weddings last year!

This year’s Put-in-Bay Music Fest is taking a step in this direction by co-hosting a American Cornhole Association Cornhole Tournament. Sport, entertainment and other non-vocational hobbies like car and boat collecting can drive tourism very effectively. We have a great base in place. Could this be our future growth area?

In many ways these types of long-term solutions might be just be the perfect answer. Better targeting of these specific visitors may be part of the tasking we require of LESI in years to come. Perhaps our partnership with LESI will helps us to develop the resources and facilities required to compete. Let me know what you think.

1(Higham, 2005Higham, J. (Ed.). (2005)

2(Preuss, 2015Preuss, H. (2015). A framework for identifying the legacies of a mega sport event. Leisure Studies, 34(6), 643–664. doi: 10.1080/02614367.2014.994552[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®]; 

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