They fish, boat, water ski, swim or paddleboard.
They search for birds, wildflowers, sea glass or quiet time while walking trails along a river.
Perhaps they only appreciate the water from afar, dining at a lakeside restaurant, marveling at the view before screaming down a roller coaster, or appreciating a reflected sunset as it closes each day.
Photo Credit: Lake Erie Shores & Islands
Regardless of the experience they are seeking, our guests expect safe drinking water, clean beaches and healthy waters.
Given the importance of the travel economy along Lake Erie and the link between a healthy environment and a healthy economy, OTA Executive Director Melinda Huntley spoke about the value of the travel industry during a press conference this week at the Great Lakes Science Center discussing proposed cuts to the EPA. President Trump’s budget calls for a 31% reduction in the EPA budget, a cut that would limit future beach monitoring, brownfield redevelopment, development of new recreation lands, and vital research - not just along Lake Erie, but across Ohio and in many other parts of the country. Also on the chopping block is funding for the National Sea Grant College Program, a program that funds and coordinates vital research, works with charter captains and marinas, develops sustainable tourism experiences, and supports the Ohio Tourism Leadership Academy among other priorities.
As the birthplace of the Clean Water Act, Cleveland was the ideal setting for the press conference identifying what’s at risk should this budget hold. Serving as the poster child for the environment, the Cuyahoga River brought the nation’s attention to point pollution sources, and the need for the EPA was born. Since then, direct pollutants entering our air and waters have decreased, despite population increases. Today, we face different, more complicated challenges, such as invasive species creating havoc with our boating and fishing community and nonpoint pollutants flowing off our lands into the waterways feeding algal blooms. These are among the environmental issues that could impact any community in any state. The risks are real.
Travel within the eight Ohio counties bordering Lake Erie generates $14.1 billion, nearly one-third of the total travel impact in Ohio. While most of us recognize that hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions benefit from traveler spending, few acknowledge and truly appreciate the role travel-related businesses play in keeping other industries strong. For example, along these same eight counties, indirect spending on goods and services generates $2.5 billion. Top industries benefiting from a strong travel economy include business services, manufacturing, finance, insurance and real estate.
Fewer anglers, birders, beach-goers, and other travelers means less spending in local businesses, including office supply stores, insurance agencies, accountant firms, and a myriad of others. It also means fewer people employed. Traveler spending along Lake Erie supports one in 11 jobs and includes customer service representatives, nurses, engineers, marketing professionals, general managers, executive chefs, landscapers, and dozens of other professionals.
The tangible loss in business revenues, jobs and tax dollars that would result given a decrease in visitors is one thing. But how about opportunity costs? What about the loss in new business developments that will never occur because the decision-making CEO didn’t visit the area, or the loss in Ohio students who decide to attend college elsewhere because of the negative social media posts about a tainted environment.
The pride and excitement of Cleveland is palpable. The investments along its waterfront and river have opened access to the lake, and the rising popularity of the city as a destination for work and leisure is spreading globally. This is a time to ensure all pieces of our economic vitality are intact – the environment and the economy.
In a ranking of travel and tourism competitiveness released by the World Economic Forum this week, the United States ranking dropped two places in 2017. This study evaluates economies based on characteristics that influence the ability of the travel economy to grow and to be sustainable. The two indexes that led to the overall drop are related to the environment and the prioritization of the travel and tourism industry.
Strange bedfellows, but once again side by side.
Photo Credit: Nautica Queen
Take Action: Contact Ohio’s federal senators and your congressman/congresswoman to let them know you oppose any action that reduces protection of the environment, such as the reduction in EPA budget (including the decimation of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) and the elimination of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program through the NOAA budget.