Study: Birders contribute millions to local economyWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week’s release of research findings from Bowling Green State University quantifies what business owners Diane and Terry Masserant already know — the birding enthusiasts who visit Northwest Ohio contribute a significant amount of money to the local economy.
The Masserants own The Eagle’s Nest Sweet Retreat, a mom-and-pop restaurant in Oregon that serves homemade food. Diane Masserant said that although she can’t give an exact dollar amount to her restaurant’s increased revenue, “we saw a huge up-boost in our numbers.
“And there were a lot of repeat customers. If we saw them once, we saw them every day. And they would tell other birders, ‘Try this place out. It’s really tremendous food.’ ”
Researcher Philip Xie, from BGSU’s School of Human Movement, Sport and Leisure Studies, conducted The Ohio Sea Grant College Program-funded study. His results provide dollar amounts that confirm the Masserants’ experiences.
According to Xie, tourists who attended events like “The Biggest Week in American Birding” conference, May 4-11, contribute more than $26 million and 283 jobs to northern Ohio’s economy. Xie says his results will help local governments, park managers and conservation groups better understand the impact of and better support bird watching. He says local governments should try to market northern Ohio in an attempt to attract more birding enthusiasts.
“Having solid numbers will help policy makers understand the financial impact of bird watching in terms of how much tax revenue and jobs it creates,” Xie said. “This information will be useful for strategic marketing — once we know where these birders are from, we will know where to spend our marketing dollars better.”
Kim Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Port Clinton, says she’s excited to have academic research to back up the data she has collected over the last three years. Kaufman says she will use BGSU’s data to continue to encourage local businesses to cater to birders.
Tonia Tice, co-owner of Barnside Creamery and a member of Black Swamp Birds & Business Alliance, says she loves serving birders who come from as far away as England and Australia.
“Our sales have grown right along with the attendance at the birding week,” she said. “The birders have all been very, very nice. We were making the comment just the other night, ‘They’re very clean. They’re very polite. We don’t have to spend money picking up after them. We don’t have anything but good things to say about them.’ ”
Xie’s study surveyed more than 1,100 birders at six of northern Ohio’s most visited bird-watching sites — Conneaut Harbor, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, Oak Openings Preserve, Old Woman Creek, and Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve. The survey asked birders 18 questions about their annual income, level of enthusiasm as a bird watcher, and the amount of money spent on food, travel, lodging, general shopping, entertainment, and birding equipment.
From the information he gathered, Xie reports that Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, located in Ottawa County, has the largest number of visitors and generates the greatest amount of income. Kaufman says that translates into more revenue for businesses in Fremont, Oak Harbor, Oregon and Port Clinton than in any other part of the state.
Matthew Forte of the Sea Grant program, located at The Ohio State University in Columbus, reports that bird watching at Magee Marsh alone supports 195 local jobs and has an economic ripple effect of $19 million in direct and indirect impacts within a 15-mile radius of Magee Marsh.
Forte reports that birders spend money that supports salaries, local products and taxes. When local people receive that money, Forte says they turn around and spend it again. That re-spending of money has a multiplying effect for the entire region, generating $1.48 for every dollar birders spend in northern Ohio.
Xie says he plans to use that data when he meets with local government officials in cities along the Lake Erie coastline to discuss what they can do to attract even more birding tourists.
The money local governments invest in their communities will give considerable return on the dollar, Xie says.
“It’s important for legislators to understand the magnitude of their decisions and to allocate resources and implement policies to attract birders,” Xie said. “After all, birding is big business, and now we have a lot more information about how to attract it.”