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Ohio Eliminates Highway Travel Centers Despite Tourism Benefits

Travelers Today       By    Antranig Dereyan

Updated: Jan 29, 2013 10:10 AM EST

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Welcome to Ohio
A sign posted on Interstate 70 warns drivers of animals loose in the area around Zanesville, Ohio (Photo : Reuters)

Planning a trip to the great state of Ohio?

Need some tourist information?

Well, don't try looking for those "always ready to help out" folks at the Highway Information Center.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is doing away with them, in the process eliminating 34 jobs staffing 11 travel centers up-and-down the Ohio interstates and one in the Statehouse Capitol.

In another cost-cutting measure the ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner, according to cleveland.com, states that "travelers with smart phones and other web devices can call up information they need on lodging, restaurants and local attractions" as the cover-up reason for the cut.

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Even though, upon further investigation, it is revealed that the cutting of these positions will save the state $2.1 million.

Tourism expert Bill Geist, of Sun Prairie, Wisc. seems to think the move is very "shortsighted," saying, "the personal touch  is critical to a successful tourism strategy."

In a good move, the ODOT isn't firing the staffers, merely "re- positioning" them into other open vacancies.

Cleaveland.com reports "the cuts are the latest in a substantial paring of ODOT's workforce, which has shrunk by 500 jobs to 4,700 since Gov. John Kasich took office."

What happened to good-old, face-to-face interaction?

Not everyone spends their days and night with eyes glued to a screen, right?.

Travel-center worker, Katie Gomert, who helps distribute thousands of brochures that visitors gladly take to go over different destinations to see, while in "The Greatest State in the Nation" likes to think not.

"It is slow in the winter, but I'll interact with 40 to 50 people an hour during the busy-season of summer," she said to cleveland.com.

She feels that the tourism sector will struggle without people like her around to aid the tourists.

"It's a big loss, in my opinion. It's a shame because we recommend a lot to do in Ohio," she said.

Adding, "I can't believe the state is doing this. Despite the advances in mobile technology, research out of Iowa confirms that consumers that stop at welcome centers extend their trips and spend more money. While I certainly understand that resources are tight for (Ohio), failing to invest in attracting and serving visitors willing to spend money in Ohio is no way to solve the budget crisis at hand."

It is a sad story, but Gomert and other travel-center workers are just victims of the government's latest attempt at saving money.

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