MANSFIELD ─ Lee Tasseff said Richland County has some “good seeds of success” in tourism. He believes things will slowly go in the right and better direction in 2021.
The president of Destination Mansfield ─ Richland County said the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the tourism and hospitality industry was not close to any downturn he has witnessed in the past 30 years.
“For the industry to get hit, and for people to stop traveling, and be scared of traveling, there's nothing to compare this to. Nothing,” he said.
So why is he optimistic about the future?
Tasseff said the pandemic forced everyone in the industry to learn something new and get smarter. Museums started selling online tickets. Restaurants found better ways to handle take-out orders. Businesses developed online selling.
Good signs were found at tourist spots. Tasseff took Kingwood Center Gardens as an example. He said it is a safe place for families and seniors. It positioned itself well to take advantage of people’s eagerness to be outside. With the new visitor center, the gardens will be “stunningly gorgeous” in spring and summer.
Tasseff said Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course proved it can successfully run races with thousands of people at the racetrack. It only ran two public races last year, but it hopes to have a full season in 2021.
Museums also adapted to the pandemic. Tasseff said The Ohio State Reformatory took the off-season time to heavily invest in a virtual tour that launched in late fall.
Dan Smith, the associate director for the Reformatory, said due to the building’s size, it took more than four months to produce the virtual tour. Hundreds of people have purchased it and the museum received a lot of positive feedback.
“Even with everything going on with COVID, it really gave people the opportunity to experience one of their favorite movies or something they've only seen in TV shows,” Smith said.
The Reformatory is working on a virtual guided tour now. Smith said people will be able to schedule a time slot to virtually walk through the building with a guide in real-time and ask questions. It could also be customized to focus on the area that visitors are more interested in. The virtual guided tour will be launched in late winter or early spring.
Smith said the Reformatory see the adaptations as ways to give people “a cool opportunity” to do something.
“This will always be part of our programming now. This isn't something that we'll get rid of after COVID is gone. We are going to continue to have virtual options for people,” he said.
With all the adaptation and good signs, Tasseff said the tourism industry will perform better this year. But the recovery will be long and slow. He encouraged business owners and organization operators to keep “looking ahead” instead of hoping things will go back to normal.
“There is no normal. Normal, as we ever do, it just does not exist. It won't exist. So get used to the change. Deal with what's coming. And make plans to be able to expand what we do. And that extends to attractions, restaurants, arts, organizations, all those things,” he said.
He suggested that businesses focus on people who have been watching how the industry reacts to the pandemic and looking for opportunities to go out safely. Research shows that this group is much larger than the one who will go out no matter what is happening.
Tasseff said those who wait and see will be the industry’s growing niche. If they had a good time and felt safe at a facility, they will visit again and spread the word. That is why businesses need to demonstrate that the norms are going to continue.
The activity on Destination Mansfield’s website showed “things are starting to come back, Tasseff said. Information regarding bike trails was the top three most-read pages in summer and fall. People were checking the event calendar. Also, more out-of-the-area users looked at the website than those who checked it locally.
Tasseff said he is anxious to see what will happen after winter passes.