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Sauder Village, campsites, zoo boom in bleak times

Source: The Blade
Publish Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Summary: Camping revenue is up more than 15% compared with a year ago, as well as a 16% increase in the number of nights spent camping.

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Jon Chavez

Aug. 11, 2009 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- At the Toledo Zoo, attendance on Mondays -- a day when Lucas County residents get in for free -- has been double expectations.

At Ohio's state parks, camping revenues through June were up 15 percent over last year.

And at Sauder Village in Fulton County, attendance is ahead of last year's, with steady business at its campground and inn.

With the economy mired in recession, Ohioans have been looking for ways to vacation on the cheap this summer. As forecast, many state residents are cutting costs with short day-trips or low-cost camping outings -- so called "stay-cations" -- within the Buckeye State's boundaries, tourism and travel experts said.

"From our partners around the state we're pretty much hearing that there are many folks that are staying closer to home," said Alicia Reece, assistant director of the Ohio Division of Tourism.

"A lot of venues are doing as good as last year and some are doing better. A few are struggling, but the push to stay in-state is very strong."

According to the tourism division, campgrounds, the Lake Erie Islands, and zoos are popular destinations this summer.

Sandy Chiaramonte, spokesman for Ohio's State Parks, which is part of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the demand for camping sites probably is tied to the recession, with citizens looking for more affordable ways to vacation. "People are gravitating to the less expensive overnight locations in our parks," she said.

According to park data, camping revenue is up 15.2 percent compared with a year ago, and there is a 16.4 percent increase in the number of nights people camped through July 31. The average number of nights per visit also is up -- 3.3 this year, compared with 3 in 2008.

The state's parks also have experienced a 5.8 percent increase in the number of nights people use park getaway cabin rentals.

Also, through June revenues from state-owned marinas is up 17.1 percent compared to 2008.

By contrast, hotels in Ohio are experiencing drops in revenues, an indication that residents are reluctant to spend money for overnight stays.

According to Smith Travel Research, occupancy in June at Ohio's hotels and motels was 59.1 percent, which compares with 62.5 a year ago. In May, the occupancy rate was 51.1 percent, compared with 56.5 percent in May, 2008.

June hotel revenues in Ohio were $173.5 million, down 8.7 percent from the same month a year ago.

Jeannette Smith, director of marketing for Sauder Village in Archbold, said customer numbers "are a little ahead of last year" at the historic farm and village.

"Our campground and the [Sauder] Inn have both been very busy, so I do think we are seeing a lot of people sticking closer to home," she said.

Ms. Smith said anecdotal information from Sauder Village indicates that the increases in attendance stem from an influx of first-time visitors, plus those who visited in the past but not in recent years.

"Stay-cation is obviously a buzz word that we've heard, but we do think there's some truth to it," Ms. Smith said. "We have heard comments from families that many are sticking around the area this summer."

Andi Norman, a spokesman for the Toledo Zoo, said there's little doubt that the popular Toledo attraction is being visited frequently this summer by people looking for low-cost entertainment and good value.

For this year, the zoo's budget planners expected about 534,500 visitors through Aug. 2. However, thus far 568,377 have passed through the gates. Last year through Aug. 2, attendance totaled 494,068.

Some of the heaviest attendance is being logged on Mondays, when Lucas County residents are admitted at no charge.

"Our Mondays have been huge. Starting with June 15, we had four consecutive Mondays where we got over 9,000 people," Ms. Norman said. The zoo anticipated between 4,000 and 5,500 visitors on Mondays this summer.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

or 419-724-6128.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0203-37124504

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