Many states are banking on that summertime ritual to continue, even in the dismal economic times, and they’re making an extra effort to draw vacationers to their attractions.
Some are touting their wine industries. Those efforts are paying off, said Ted Farthing, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, a quasi-state agency. “We are seeing very strong traffic in sales at our tasting rooms. People are driving here and buying a lot of wine,” he told State News for the June/July issue.
While California has the lion’s share of wine in the U.S., other states have a toehold on the history—and are working hard to make a name for their wine industries.
The first American wines were made in Florida, a place known primarily for its touristy beaches, where more than a century and a half ago—even before grapes were planted in California—Spanish pioneers made wine, according to St. Sebastian winery in St. Augustine, Fla.
Near the beaches of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., St. Sebastian Winery has made its home. Every year more than two stainless steel tanks full of wine—that’s more than 5,000 gallons of the vino—are given away to visitors who come to taste Florida wine, according to Nikki Whitney, a tour guide at the winery.
“That’s the best PR you can have, especially for a state that has no image as far as winemaking is concerned,” Whitney said.
In other states, tourism officials are hoping those people taking “staycations”—vacations close to home—will venture into their own backyards to find not only wine, but more relaxation and fun.
“Our approach has changed a little bit as a result of what’s going on in the economy,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, of his state’s efforts. “People still want to travel and we’re trying to encourage them to discover things in their own backyard.”
Michigan is hoping for the opposite.
About 65 percent of Michigan’s tourism industry is in-state visitors, according to Kirsten Borgstrom, media relations manager for Travel Michigan. In March, working in conjunction with industry partners, the state launched its first-ever national campaign to draw tourists from across the United States.
“We are trying to make sure the rest of the world knows all the wonderful tourism opportunities that the state of Michigan has to offer,” Borgstrom said.
Some states are getting help from the federal stimulus package to spruce up their big attractions. Take Tennessee, home to the Great Smoky Mountains, the National Park Service’s number one attraction. In its 75th birthday year, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will receive $30.1 million from the federal stimulus package for both the Tennessee and North Carolina sides, according to the National Park Service Web site.
And that can only help tourism in the Volunteer state, said Phyllis Qualls Brooks, assistant commissioner, community and industry relations for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.
“With any attraction or destination, any improvements, any enhancement makes the experience for a visitor even better,” Qualls-Brooks told State News.
Some states are also using federal stimulus money to spruce up their own state park systems, often a big draw for many states.
But it’s not so easy for every state. In fact, Hawaii is working hard to attract tourists in the down economic times. But it’s also been hit by rising fuel costs, the volatility of the airline industry and competition, according to David Uchiyama, vice president of the Hawai’i Tourism Authority.
Tourism plays a major role in Hawaii, which receives $2.3 billion in taxes annually from tourism, which provides 155,200 jobs with a $4.6 billion payroll, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chair of the Hawaii House Finance Committee and vice chair of The Council of State Governments-WEST, said tourism is his state’s number one industry and touches four out of five jobs in Hawaii.
“We are concerned about the decrease in tourism in the current recession,” Oshiro said. “Visitor industry spending is critical to our economy.”
That’s one reason why state legislators in the most recent session approved an additional $5 million in marketing promotion for tourism, and enabled the Hawai’i Tourism Authority to receive an additional $10 million annually over the next few years for marketing.
Check out the June/July State News for more details on how states are promoting the summer travel season.