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Lake Erie Shores & Islands Update from President Larry Fletcher

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February 02, 2021
As I work on our 2020 annual report, I am doing what all other destination marketing organizations are having to do this year, including a footnote acknowledging 2020 as the year COVID-19 impacted our operation in ways we could not have imagined.       
We had started the year having come off a very strong 2019 with all metrics we track being up.
The pieces were falling together for 2020 to be an incredible year and we therefore had set very ambitious goals.
2020 was in fact incredible, but not defined in the way we could have ever anticipated. In mid-March our organization quickly shifted our goals and expectations from making plans based on growing our business, to developing strategies for how to survive. Our initial main focus areas therefore became:  
  • The Health & Safety of Our Team: We closed our welcome centers to the public and staff however continued to serve our partners and guests by answering phones and emails remotely.
  • Survival of Our Organization: We unfortunately found it necessary to eliminate our part-time travel counselor staff and reduce our payroll by 50% by utilizing SharedWork Ohio. We cut expenses across all other areas of our operation and adjusted our revenue projections down by as much as 70%.
  • Support for Our Region’s Businesses & Communities: Once businesses and activities began becoming available to people, we gathered and promoted information about what was open. Throughout the year, our marketing messaging shifted appropriate to current travel policies. Messaging included what our businesses were doing to provide a clean and safe experience. We also served as an information resource for our tourism industry partners and continued to encourage residents to support their local businesses; work that continues today.  
  • Advocacy for Safe Opening of Businesses: I was one of many from our region who served on one of the Governor’s “Responsible Restart Ohio” committees advocating for the safe opening of our tourism industry businesses. I also joined others in providing testimony on this subject at several Ohio Legislative Committee hearings, and that advocacy has been ongoing.   
Earlier I mentioned our setting ambitious goals for the year. While COVID impacted our ability to reach those goals, I believe we can look ahead with optimism as our region is well-positioned for a relatively quick recovery once travel can resume at near-normal levels. Reasons for this include:  
  • The decrease in visitation and associated spending in 2020 did not drop as much as we had originally projected. This, combined with our expense reduction measures, has resulted in our organization having sufficient funds to aggressively market once the time is right. 
  • Outdoor recreation activities spiked in 2020 and our region is rich with assets and opportunities to meet this demand. Youth sports showed resilience in 2020 and its impact on our region will continually increase moving through the new year.
  • Tourism industry research is showing that moving forward, travelers will be staying closer to home and driving more instead of flying. Our region has always benefitted from having more than 100 million people living within a day’s drive. We will realize that benefit even more so in the future.
  • There is evidence that our county and region welcomed many first-time and “first time in a long time” guests in 2020. Many of these people will be back and hopefully next time, with more people in tow.
I say these things knowing we have a long way to go before we are out from under the weight this virus has brought to us and cannot forget about the economic and human suffering already experienced by many. As we look forward with optimism, we must also do what we can to help the many who need our support.
As we wait for the vaccine plan to roll out, the Shores & Islands staff team, boards and committees will continue our work to keep the Shores & Islands region top of mind and have our marketing plans ready to engage at higher levels when the time is right.
In closing, I and all at Lake Erie Shores & Islands thank those on the front lines of this extremely challenging time. Our region’s health care workers; first responders; service industry and retail workers; public officials, educators; transportation workers, and so many others. The risks and sacrifices of these individuals allow our communities to continue serving the needs of residents and visitors alike, and we are in their debt.
Jill Bauer, Public Relations Manager, (419) 625-2984