Rocco Ciocca was nervous—as anyone might be while interviewing for the job of Director of Vascular Surgery at MetroHealth Medical Center. But, surprisingly, this incredible job opportunity wasn’t the source of his angst. The Seattle-based doctor was already a world-class surgeon.
Rather, Ciocca was worried because while he was taking part in this high-stakes interview, his wife Lauren was off seeing the sights somewhere in Cleveland. Even if the interview went as well as it possibly could, his wife’s experience on that winter day would greatly affect their future. She'd already expressed some wariness before they even boarded the plane to Cleveland—and that was before landing in -20ºF weather. He braced himself for her judgment when they met up later that day.
“Happily, she was smiling,” recalls Ciocca.
With the help of Cleveland-based Executive Arrangements, Lauren had spent a lovely day exploring the city, from shopping in Tremont to lunch at Crop to walking around the West Side Market and University Circle. With Lauren’s endorsement and MetroHealth’s job offer, the couple packed up and moved east to Cleveland.
The Cioccas ended up settling in the Warehouse District, where they’ve been for three years–and they’re not alone, as Downtown Cleveland Alliance projects that downtown will have more than 20,000 residents by 2020. On top of that, downtown Cleveland ranks eighth in the nation for its growth rate of college-educated millennial residents, according to the Cleveland Foundation.
But, as with the Cioccas, it all starts with a visit, and that’s exactly why Destination Cleveland has embarked on an ambitious “Visit Me in CLE campaign” designed to attract 20 million visitors by the end of 2020. The campaign enlists current Cleveland residents to invite friends and family to visit the city on a dedicated weekend in June 2019—and spread the Cleveland love far and wide.
“We can’t achieve that goal without the help of Clevelanders,” says Emily Lauer, Senior Director of PR and Communications for Destination Cleveland. “In a 2016 survey, 77 percent of Clevelanders said they would recommend Cleveland as a place to visit, so now we have to get them to actually recommend it.”
So will it be tourists or new residents who bring Cleveland to the next level? The answer could very well be both. As community amenities and attractions are added almost daily, investments in infrastructure continue to be made, and awareness is raised about all things great in our city, Cleveland’s status as both a short and long-term destination will continue to soar.
Visit Me in CLE at Wade Oval WednesdayPlaying Host
While 20 million visitors may sound like somewhat of a lofty goal, it’s on track with the way Cleveland is trending as a tourist destination—thanks to six consecutive years of record visitation, with18 million travelers coming in 2016. Yet Destination Cleveland looks at those strong numbers and takes them as a challenge to do even better. Launched in late July, their #VisitMeInCLE campaign is an effort to broadcast Cleveland’s appeal on a larger scale.
“Visitors come to Cleveland to get that big city-feel, but without the big city ego that can come along with that,” says Lauer. “We Clevelanders will be ourselves, you visitors will be yourselves, and everyone will have a great time.”
As the resident visitor’s bureau, Destination Cleveland’s role has always been to help both residents and visitors do just that—offering sample itineraries and novel travel ideas highlighting every area of Cleveland, all with the aim of creating the greatest economic impact possible. For “Visit Me in CLE,” Destination Cleveland is taking it a step further by providing “irreverent, bold” postcards (both electronic and hard copy) for locals to lure friends and family to the area.
“We need everyone’s help to help Destination Cleveland grow tourism, by pledging to support the campaign,” says Lauer.
More than 1,000 postcards have already been sent out, thanks to dedicated events held at Edgewater Live and Wade Oval Wednesday in August. Photos taken at the events and tagged #VisitMeinCLE have also been transformed into a traveling mosaic to highlight the Clevelanders who committed to invite people into the region.
It’s all building up to the two dedicated weekends planned for 2019: “Be a Tourist In Your Hometown (March 20-24, 2019) and “Visit Me in CLE” (June 2019). Until then, Lauer encourages locals to learn about initiatives like the recently introduced Cleveland Brewery Passport program (which features 30 Northeast Ohio breweries) or DC’s various online weekend itineraries—from music-filled (concerts!) to arty (museums!) to quirky (hidden gems!). “If you don’t know an attraction exists, you can’t suggest it as an option to your guests,” says Lauer.
The desired result? Tens of millions of visits that are as fulfilling for guests as they are for hosts.
Change of Address
Sometimes, the visit ends up a lot longer than just a visit. In fact, research suggests that it happens quite a bit more than sometimes. An Oxford Economics study conducted in 2016 that included Cleveland data revealed that 32 percent of new residents in an area first visited their community as tourists. But to sell people on relocating, it’s important to paint a picture that involves more than just the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Visiting Cleveland for the weekend is very different than contemplating a move here,” says Margy Judd, President and Owner of Executive Arrangements, Inc., a talent attraction and retention services firm that specializes in showing business recruits and new hires how their life can fit into Northeast Ohio. “Those considering relocation need to know the practicalities of life and what their day-to-day will really look like.”
To introduce potential Clevelanders to their possible home, Judd and her staff provide customized orientations based on their clients’ interests. Their deep dive typically bypasses the Indians game and visits to MOCA, instead focusing on topics potential transplants want to know—such as school options, housing stock, commute times, crime and safety rates, and taxes. They then work with clients to create a profile that is then matched with a community that works for their needs, and Judd says urban living is rising to the top of that list.
"Every year, we analyze the spots that the newcomers we work with chose to buy or rent homes, and for the first time since we began tracking this info, the city of Cleveland itself was in the top five," says Judd, adding that the most popular neighborhoods are downtown, Ohio City, Tremont, and Detroit Shoreway.
That said, Judd is realistic about the fact that our city may not be for everyone. “We worked with a client who was moving here from outside San Francisco who was used to picking up his surfboard after work to head to the ocean every day,” says Judd. “Cleveland can’t add an amenity like that. We can’t change topography.”
But with over 40 years in the business and 3,500 families served, Judd is quick to extol the diversity of living options in Cleveland. It is a fact to which the Cioccas will readily attest. They settled in The Pinnacle Building in the Warehouse District, with a view of the river and downtown, and easy walking access to a bevy of entertainment and cuisine options.
“Our entire Cleveland life began with that visit,” says Ciocca. “We were educated by those who loved Cleveland. Now we live here and get to turn around and do the same for others.”
Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame, Ohio’s LGBTQ+ news and views digital platform. He is the author of Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew (2017), LGBTQ Cleveland (2018), LGBTQ Columbus (2019), and LGBTQ Cincinnati. For 10 years, he was the host of This Show is So Gay, the nationally-syndicated radio show. In his spare time, he is a Professor of Education at Baldwin Wallace University, teaching courses in ethical leadership, antiracism, and how individuals can work with communities to make just and meaningful change.