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Athens County Convention & Visitors Bureau located on 667 E. State Street.

Athens tourism shows the city is more than just a college town

Athens tourism is evolving to draw tourists into everything Athens has to offer through new channels and promotions.

When most people think of Athens, Ohio University is what comes to mind. Paige Alost, executive director at the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau, wants to broaden the tourism conversation about what else the region has to offer.

“I think it's just a creative conversation, really, kind of spurred on by some major organizations here,” Alost said. “I mean, ours for sure, but groups like Rural Action and ACEnet that have really jumped sort of feet-first into the tourism development realm, I think it really kind of brought those conversations to light.”

Alost and her staff at the bureau are trying to create an identity for the community. That identity has largely been based around OU in the past. The scope of Athens’ identity has been growing through the creation of event packages.

One of the visitor’s bureau’s projects is 30 Mile Meal, which is where together local food producers, the farmer’s market, craft breweries and wineries engage tourists in the community while they’re in Athens. 

Events, such as the motorcycle course Windy-9, draw an even bigger audience that Athens wouldn’t normally see.The Windy-9 is nearly 1,000 miles of motorcycling course spanned across nine paths. Alost said the Windy-9 is the first curated collection of motorcycle touring in the state. 

“That has been huge for us and attracting people who wouldn't come here for any other reason,” Alost said. “You know, maybe they're not hikers or attending the university, but it brings people to the region to ride and they're having a great experience.”

The visitor’s bureau partners with RoadRUNNER magazine, a national motorcycle magazine, to help promote the event. It has been a primary partner with the project since the beginning, Alost said. 

The visitor’s bureau typically utilizes social media and digital marketing to promote to its audiences. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have all been utilized in promotion projects.

“It really depends on the market that we're speaking to,” Alost said. “But you know, certain age groups respond better on Facebook and digital advertising than others.”

Both the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau and the OU Inn try to promote outdoor experiences for tourists. The OU Inn specifically tailors the Athens experience to each group it sees, Betsy Baringer, director of sales and catering at the hotel, said. 

“It just depends on the request of the guests to try to custom tailor it to make it perfect,” Baringer said. “It could be even just a tour of town on campus if the group that's coming in maybe has some future bobcats in their group.”

Other events the OU Inn often promotes include ziplining and biking. Athens Mayor Steve Patterson predicts that once the 88-mile Baileys Trail project is completed, the city will experience a large increase in tourism, according to a previous Post report.

For Alost, biking is also an important tourist attraction. The Hockhocking Adena bikeway and the amount of local bike shops have made biking a key feature of Athens, and it’s something Alost tries to emphasize in her work.

“We always say tourism is a byproduct of good community development,” Alost said. “It's got to come from what your locals love and what they're willing to invest their time and … resources in.” 

As the only full-service hotel in the city, the OU Inn tries to serve as a hub for tourists to go in and explore the city of Athens, Baringer said. It tries to bring in larger groups and corporations that travel around the city in order to maximize tourist numbers, and their effects.

“That's a huge part of the tourism pushes: to bring the groups that come in and bring a lot of spending dollars, not just at the hotel, but at the other restaurants and places, uptown businesses,” Baringer said. 

The tourism industry plays an integral role in the city of Athens. Tourism brought in about $166 million in revenue in 2017, according to a previous Post report

Finding success in the tourism industry centers around not changing Athens’ culture, but building upon what the region offers.

“What we have here is pretty special,” Alost said. “But just as a whole, how do we welcome more people to the region to show them what we love?”

@abblawrence

am166317@ohio.edu

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