By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
This weekend’s WaterFire events along the Shenango River in downtown Sharon are just the beginning of the Visit Mercer County PA tourism bureau’s stepped-up efforts to focus on all the outdoor activities available locally.
Peggy Mazyck, director of the promotion agency, said tourists bring in $293 million to the county each year, primarily visiting Grove City Premium Outlets in Springfield Township, Grove City’s Wendell August Forge, and Daffin’s Candies, Reyers Shoe Store, The Winner and Quaker Steak and Lube in Sharon.
“And that’s not separating out the international millions that come from visitors from Canada. We get about 6 million visitors a year to the outlet mall,” she said.
Summertime brings golfers to Tam O’Shanter in Hermitage and boaters to Shenango River Lake, while Tara, the country inn in Clark, hosts a number of weddings and hungry tourists flock to Springfield Township restaurants Rachel’s Roadhouse, the Springfield Grille or the Iron Bridge Inn for dinner.
Founded in 1953, the Visit Mercer County PA tourism bureau, was originally chartered as the Mercer County Tourist Promotion Agency. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the group has already hosted a dinner at Tara and received a recognition proclamation from the Mercer County commissioners, Mazyck said.
In the 17 years that Mazyck has been leading the agency, the entire way of doing business has changed, she said. “First, people don’t have to go somewhere to go on vacation. There is plenty to do and see right here at home. Secondly, people are doing their vacation planning online now. We don’t get too much walk-in traffic at all,” she said.
Her goals now are to partner with different businesses to offer specific vacation options, targeted to tourists’ preferences. “We joined with the Mercer County Golf Trail and included about 20 different courses that we featured in a magazine spread. I think it’s a very innovative way of drawing in visitors,” she said.
“People now access things in a totally different way. We do a lot of online advertising. Our focus really has shifted to online marketing. We haven’t given up on print advertising either though, because there are still people who do that to plan vacations as well,” she said.
“When people call us, they are usually responding to something they saw, rather than just blind calling us,” Mazyck added.
The expenses to promote Mercer County golf courses and other venues are shared equally by the business and the tourism bureau, she said.
The next focus will be outdoor activities, such as kayaking on the lakes, canoeing, bicycling and the trails sponsored by the Shenango River Watchers, she said.
She said she’s also hoping visitors to last night’s WaterFire Sharon will not only return for the September and October events, but will spread the word about all that Mercer County offers.
As the county sits at the edge of an anticipated economic boom from the oil and gas industry, Mazyck said it needs to be ready to lure away workers from neighboring, and competing, Ohio businesses.
“For example, a bed and breakfast in Grove City wants to expand to add another floor. We need things like that to draw people from Ohio hotels,” she said.
“The only thing right now is, we aren’t a winter destination. January, February and March are our lowest times for tourism. We have a lot of potential for growth. I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of exciting things happening,” she said.