WILMINGTON — “We still made lemonade — without lemons!” was a key message threading throughout the annual meeting of the Clinton County Convention & Visitors Bureau held via Zoom Tuesday.
Tourism nationwide suffered in 2020 due to COVID-19 and resulting restrictions. But thanks to some outside-the-box thinking by the local CVB and businesses and organizations, although Clinton County tourism was down, it fared better than many counties near here and across Ohio.
Guest speaker Melinda Huntley, Executive Director of the Ohio Travel Association, said statewide tourism revenue was down by billons of dollars and by about 31 percent in counties surrounding Clinton, but that number was just 12 percent here despite COVID.
She cited positive local factors such as Clinton County’s “small-town appeal, wealth of recreation opportunities, and the Wilmington Air Park”, especially in a county where tourists can spread out and social distance — including agritourism, which was a huge part of the county’s tourism success in 2020.
“You’re sitting in a really good spot to capture all of those travel dollars where there’s room to social distance,” said Huntley.
But some popular venues struggled mightily due to the state’s restrictions on gatherings and social distancing, especially the Murphy Theatre and all its events which draw from around the county as well as from all over southern and central Ohio.
Huntley and other speakers noted the success of the emphasis on agritourism, such as the thousands of people across the state which populated venues including the Stokes Berry Farm, Peaceful Acres Lavender Farm, Schappacher Farms and the county’s alpaca farms.
CVB board member Stephanie Stokes of Stokes Berry Farm shared how the business diversified in 2020, not so much but to lift profits but to lift up community spirits. She shared how on opening day about 5,000 people — 95 percent from outside the county — came to the farm for peace, serenity, and family, while creating “the first-ever traffic jam on Center Road.”
CVB President Matt Wahrhaftig noted how proud he was of the CVB’s work in 2020 despite the pandemic.
In May the CVB moved to 64 W. Main St. above Rome Jewelers. The Loft on Main is now managed by the CVB, renting the space for small weddings, receptions, birthday parties, rehearsal dinners, Christmas parties and much more.
And near the end of the year, the CVB in partnership with the Wilmington-Clinton County Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the new Clinton County Community Champions Award (C4 Awards) to recognize local businesses and organizations, nonprofits, students and individuals “to celebrate doing good in many facets of our community” through the pandemic.
Despite the roadblocks COVID-19 presented in 2020, “We still made lemonade — without lemons!” said CVB Executive Director Susan Valentine-Scott. “We were ready for another year of greatness coming off a prosperous 2019. COVID hit hard and we had to trim our sails and focus on our roots, agritourism.”
She noted that the local CVB actually fared well compared to many others across the state that had to either lay off employees or even shut down.
The CVB is looking forward to welcoming many musical acts later this year that were originally scheduled to perform here in 2020.