This is the second in a series of interviews with people who operate blogs and websites that concern themselves with travel and especially tourist travel in the state of Ohio. This weeks interview is with Frank R. Satullo who started the wonderful travel site, “Ohio Traveler Magazine” which has become very popular with folks looking for ideas for getaways around the Buckeye State.
Can you give me a brief description of how you came up with the idea for the Ohio Traveler.com?
I was working in the Cleveland area for a company that announced we’d be out of work within a year. In order to gain new skills, I taught myself to create a web site. With my PR background, I was able to get some media interest. The web site was all Cleveland related at the time.
One part of the site focused on free things to do in Northeast Ohio. It was receiving the most traffic so I expanded it to include anywhere in Ohio. When I finally became unemployed, I was fortunate to have a nice severance package and took several months to write a book about free Ohio fun. I used the site to provide updates to the book and they cross promoted each other.
Employment prospects were looking slim so after a while, I had an opportunity that forced me to move my family to Cincinnati. After 18 months on the new job, book sales were going well and the web site traffic was outstanding. So I decided to put the whole book on the web site, change its name and married my promotional background with my new love of Ohio tourism. That is when OhioTraveler.com was born. I have since expanded it to include any destinations in Ohio, not just the freebies. The site today focuses on the roads lesser traveled around the state featuring inexpensive or free things to see and do.
Like me, I assume you have some favorite destinations around Ohio. What are your top three?
Easy. Cedar Point, Cleveland Metroparks system and Hocking Hills. Well, maybe not as easy at it used to be. These have been my top-3 most of my life but numbers 4 and 5 are not far behind. But you asked for the top-3 so I’ll keep you wondering about 4 and 5.
How would you describe Ohio to a visitor from another state?
You should move here! We have it all: A great Lake, A great river, Appalachian country, big cities, major league sports teams, forest, best amusement park in the world, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Football Hall of Fame, and one-of-a-kind festivals and special events galore.
What would you call Ohio’s best kept secret?
IT’S A TIE: National Museum of The United States Air Force in Dayton. No need to go to the Smithsonian! Plus, it’s totally free! And it includes three retired Air Force One airplanes and other original historic aircraft. The other best kept secret is The Wilds. I’ve been there in winter and summer and absolutely loved the entire experience both times. The conservation effort there is exceptional. Safari in Ohio. Who would have thunk?
If you’re still wondering about 4 and 5 from question #2, wonder no more.
Do you visit every place that you write about?
When I actually write about something for OhioTraveler, it is a place I visited. But I publish articles from freelance writers and press releases in OhioTraveler too. When I wrote my book, the answer is no, I hadn’t been to half of them.
Have you ever visited an attraction and been so disappointed that you refused to write about the place?
Fortunately, I have not had that experience. I guess with the Internet today, you pretty much know what awaits going in. If an attraction doesn’t offer as much as I had hoped, I turn the piece into more of a humorous experiential article and focus less about the place itself and more about the trip and the little things that happen along the way. If you pay attention, there’s no shortage of strange happenings or observations while on the road.
What destination that you have written about (Not necessarily your personal favorite) is the most popular with readers?
I am finding my readers like to feel they are riding shotgun with me no matter where I take them. So much has been written about most things out there, readers get a kick out of the personal accounts I litter into the story. More and more, you hear destinations marketing themselves as experiential tourism destinations. When I have the opportunity to write in an experiential style, readers respond to that more than anything else
What do you look for when you first visit a new tourist area?
A rest room. I drink too much coffee on the road. After that, I look for authenticity and originality. I hate cookie-cutter and copy-cat stuff.
Why did you start out writing only about free things?
Yes. The first travel writing I ever did was for a book I authored, titled, Free Ohio Fun. It featured free attractions, destination, festivals and events. Some places charged admission most of the time but on a certain day and timeframe each month they would open the doors for free, but often did not publicize this very much. When I was out of work looking for free things to do with my children, I was surprised at how many cool places existed. Triple-A told me Ohio has more free tourism attractions than any of the surrounding states and most of the country.
My book had “FREE” stamped in large red text on the cover which posed a problem at bookstores when customers walked off with it thinking the book was free.
What tips would you pass along about finding interesting places to your readers?
Even in today’s modern-age where information is abundant and instantly at your fingertips, it’s still a buyer-beware world. A few years ago, I took my family to meet an old friend and his family at a cabin. The online pics didn’t tell the whole story. We were in a cabinette on a culd-a-sac street in the woods with about 100 spring-breakers who had rented every cabin around us, except ours. Going back to question 6, this made for a very humorous experiential article. I never named or will name the place though. My mom taught me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Is “OhioTraveler.com” aimed at a particular audience?
I used to think it was most appealing to parents with dependent children but have found over the years it is used by many retirement communities, college students looking for cheap dates, and a growing demographic of grandparents traveling with grandchildren.
When you have free time where in Ohio do you and your family go?
I grew up in the Cleveland area ( Lorain County) and still have a ton of family there so I love “going home” and to all the hot spots I grew up with such as the ballpark, Metroparks, Little Italy/Murray Hill, West Side Market, downtown, University Circle, out on the lake, a beach in Bay Village and Bearden’s Restaurant in Rocky River.
Tell me about yourself?
I grew up in Avon Lake and saw it turn from a farm town to full fledged suburb. I spent every Sunday “down at the house” visiting my grandparents in Cleveland where 30 family members would be on any given Sunday. My dad’s family was really big. I grew up cheering for the Cleveland Indians in the 70’s when they couldn’t catch a cold. I once entered an editorial contest by The Plain Dealer in the 80’s about why I liked the Indians. I won. Maybe I was the only entrant. Anyway, the prize was dinner with the Indians and a game.
The dinner turned out to be lunch at the kick-off of the winter press tour at the old stadium. I was a young kid but old enough where Mom just dropped me and my friend off at the stadium. We went to the restaurant inside and grabbed the most plush booth we saw. In came Gabe Paul (General Manager) and his entourage. A man ran ahead of them ran over to us and said we couldn’t sit there. I said we could because I won the contest. He looked puzzled and tried to shoo us away. By then, Gabe Paul asked what was the problem. The man said we wouldn’t leave. I said I won the contest. Gabe Paul said, “Boys, enjoy yourselves, we’ll find another place to sit.” So they crowded some tables and chairs together. We never ate with a player. We did eat while we watched the manager and one player take questions from reporters.
How does this tell about myself? I always thought big, worked hard and stood my ground. But in the end, I just want to have fun. Oh, and I learned to check my ego at the door like Gabe Paul did that day. Say what you want about his running of the Indians back then but on that day, I respected the man. It is because of that day, I also became a skeptic and learned to question just about anything that’s sounds too good to be true.
Our thanks to Frank for taking time out of a busy schedule to sit down and talk with us. Remember you can visit Frank by going to our links on the side of the page and click on Ohio Traveler Magazine.