Ohioans better brush up on how to say hello in a foreign language.
The state saw a 28 percent jump in overseas visitors last year — the biggest increase in the nation, according to a new federal tourism report.
The U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries says about 357,000 visitors from overseas came to the Buckeye State, up from 279,000 a year earlier. The numbers don’t include people from Canada or Mexico.
Ohio topped the 21 other states and one territory (Guam) with enough responses to be included in the federal survey for percentage growth. It was followed by Hawaii at 24 percent, and Florida and North Carolina, tied with 16 percent.
Several states saw their number of overseas visitors decline.
Overall, overseas travel to the United States increased 7 percent. Most travelers reported being on leisure trips, while others were visiting friends and relatives, or on business or headed to a convention.
It’s unclear why Ohio saw big growth. The federal report noted that first-time visitors to the United States fell by 11 percent, and repeat visitors generally venture beyond top destinations.
Lyn Tolan, spokeswoman with the Ohio Development Services Agency, which oversees tourism, said the state didn’t launch a new foreign marketing campaign.
“We know year to year that Ohio is attracting people because it is affordable,” she said. “There is a wide range of activities to do. We are seen as friendly and welcoming to visitors, and it is considered a family-oriented destination.”
She attributed the one-year increase, in part, to greater awareness of Ohio thanks to businesses here exporting their products. The state is on pace to hit $50 billion in exports this year, she said.
Last year, Ohio also attracted plenty of attention from foreign journalists during the presidential election, and Cincinnati hosted the World Choir Games.
Next year, Columbus is hosting a FIFA World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Mexico, and Cleveland-Akron will host the international Gay Games.
“We’ve got the Great Lakes and world-class entertainment,” Tolan said. “We’ve got anything you would want for an experience, relaxation, excitement. It’s all here.”
Despite the increase in Ohio, the state still lags way behind other states in terms of the number of overseas visitors and came in at 19th overall.
New York beat every other state and territory with 9.3 million travelers last year, a 2 percent decline.
The rest of the top five: Florida, 6.5 million, 16 percent increase; California, 6 million, 2 percent decline; Hawaii, 2.8 million, 24 percent increase; and Nevada, 2.7 million, 4 percent decline.
New York City was the most popular destination city, with 9.1 million visitors. It was followed by Miami, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Orlando and San Francisco. No Ohio city made the list.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.