What started out as a routine tweet promoting a Father’s Day getaway has tourism officials in Sandusky, Ohio, red-faced over a hash tag that put the invitation smack in the middle of lurid headlines involving Jerry Sandusky.
“Golf & Spa Kalahari - #Sandusky Package/Gift Certificate. Perfect for a Father's Day gift!” read the enthusiastic entry on @LESIWC, the Twitter account of Lake Erie Shores & Islands on Wednesday afternoon.
But readers who clicked on the hash tag in search of more information on family-friendly trips were instead immersed in the latest disturbing developments from the trial of the former Penn State University assistant coach who is accused of sexually abusing 10 boys.
It’s certainly not what the destination intended.
Spa Kalahari is part of the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio. Officials there say they rarely, if ever, use the #Sandusky hash tag, but inadvertently did so this time to make sure travelers knew the offer was not valid at an identically-named sister property in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
“Our social media gal is having a guilt complex,” said Joan Van Offeren, director of the visitors bureau in Erie County, Ohio, which runs the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Twitter account.
“It’s an awakening. I certainly will say that I’m sure everyone on our staff is attuned to it as we speak.”
Tourism officials in the area want to make sure there’s a distinction between the name of the community and the name of an alleged pedophile, Van Offeren added.
Indeed, they were quick to respond to a Twitter user who mocked their use of the hash tag.
“Oh my, very bad day to be putting the #sandusky hashtag on your advertising...” tweeted a user named Holly Parish.
“Thanks for the concern however Sandusky, Ohio is the anchor city of the #ShoresAndIslands region and we are very proud of it,” the visitors bureau responded.
Van Offeren hopes tourists will focus on the golf and spa package and the destination that the tweet was meant to promote. The Kalahari Resort calls itself America’s largest indoor water park and the largest convention center in the Midwest.
Visitors in the area can also check out Cedar Point, which has been named the world's best amusement park for 14 consecutive years and draws more than 3 million people a year, Van Offeren said.
She noted that the visitors bureau would not use #Sandusky in its tweets again, but was philosophical about the unintended consequences of hash tags.
“We’re fortunate to be in travel and tourism, which is a very fun business. We’re in the hospitality industry, so our mindset is on the most positive attractions and how we can bring people to our destinations,” Van Offeren said.
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