Warren County officials say tourism rebounds post-COVID, sets record in 2022

Mar. 17—Tourism keeps on growing in Warren County, as the area's largest industry continues to rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phillip S. Smith, president and CEO of the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the county's tourism industry "isn't just ticking up... it's jumping up," in the wake of losing 2,000 jobs because of the pandemic.

"The research continues to show people are favoring destinations that are suburban/rural; outdoor activities; and drivable," he said.

Smith added some of the increased tourism is "revenge tourism" where people are traveling after spending the past few years of staying home due to the pandemic.

An estimated 13.1 million people visited Warren County's numerous tourism draws last year, a new record. It was a 12.98 percent jump from 2021, according to the WCCVB, and a near 20% increase from 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the travel and tourism industry. The county's previous record for annual attendance, 12.36 million, came in 2019.

Among the county's most visited attractions in 2022 were Kings Island, Caesar Creek State Park, Miami Valley Gaming, Great Wolf Lodge, the Ohio Renaissance Festival, the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament and the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village — a 128-acre destination outdoor sporting facility owned and operated by the WCCVB.

"Tourism is strong in Ohio," said Matt MacLaren, director of TourismOhio. "We had record levels in 2022 and we can expect a great year in 2023."

He said people are focusing on road trips, visiting family and friends, and visiting amusement and indoor water parks.

Tourism has long been one of Warren County's top industries and one of the region's most critical drivers of economic success. A 2022 study conducted by the state of Ohio showed tourism accounts for approximately $1.45 billion in annual economic impact for the county, and supports more than 12,000 jobs — making Warren County the second-most tourism-dependent county in southwest Ohio.

According to the study conducted by the state and Longwoods International, the economic impact resulting from tourism between 2010 through 2022 has grown 69%, from $863 million to $1.45 billion. Jobs and wages are also up 17% and 41% respectively over that time period. In addition, tax revenue from tourism was up 72%, from $115 million in 2010 to $199 million in 2022.

The WCCVB projects 2023 to be another impactful year for Warren County tourism, as the industry will be fueled by events including the debut of Kings Island's Adventure Port, the Western & Southern Open's 125th Anniversary, a turf field expansion at the Warren County Sports Park, a new hotel property in Mason, and the recently announced District in Deerfield project.

In addition adult soccer tournaments, Baseball Youth Nationals will be held at the sports park. ESPN will be at the sports park covering the USA Ultimate College Nationals on Memorial Day, which is expected to have an economic impact of more than $2.3 million. The Big East college baseball tournament will be at Prasco Park in Mason over Memorial Day weekend.

Also becoming a huge factor in the tourism equation is the Warren County Sports Park on Ohio 741 in Turtlecreek Twp., which attracted nearly 1 million guests and drove $63 million into the county. Officials said the sports park will be busy from late March to Thanksgiving with various youth sports and other events.

Later this year, the WCCVB will be installing two new synthetic turf fields and two new practice fields at the sports park, which is projected to add another 15,000 room nights for area hotels and add another $9 million in economic impact. The new fields are expected to be complete in November 2023.

In its second full year of operation, the sports park welcomed nearly 1 million people in 2022, hosted 51 events, filled 67,000 room nights, and generated an economic impact of $63 million. The Warren County Sports Park is the only destination sports park in southern Ohio, and the only one in Ohio operated and owned by a convention and visitors bureau.