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Experience Columbus Releases 2020 State of the Visitor Industry: Mid-Year Report

COVID-19's effects have been devastating to most Ohio communities

The 2020 state of the visitor industry mid-year report made available today by Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission shows the continued importance of safely reopening the city.

As the destination marketing organization for the Columbus region, Experience Columbus is dedicated to growing visitor spending and enhancing the visitor experience. Annually, visitors make 43 million trips to Greater Columbus for conventions, trade shows, sporting events and leisure visits, spending $7.6 billion and supporting 78,600 jobs. Bed tax collections as a result of these visits reached an all-time high of $49.7 million in 2019, which supports not only Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, but also the Greater Columbus Arts Council, nearly 40 health and human service organizations, the Affordable Housing Trust and Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. 

According to Tourism Economics, the Columbus MSA lost more 47,000 jobs from February through April in the leisure and hospitality sector. Reports from the Office of City of Columbus Auditor Megan Kilgore show year-to-date bed tax collections total $12 million, down 45 percent from the same period the year prior.

“There is no doubt that 2020 has been a rough year, but Columbus is resilient,” said Brian Ross, Experience Columbus' president and CEO. “Though the city’s vital tourism economy has been devastated since the onset of COVID-19, we still have many things to celebrate. We have incredible exhibitions on display at our top-rated attractions, ready for residents and regional travelers alike. We’re the second destination in the country to coordinate pursuit of GBAC STAR™ Accreditation, the cleaning industry’s only outbreak prevention and response accreditation. The incredible creativity shown by our partners during this time of uncertainty has been inspiring and we are confident that Columbus will come out stronger on the other side.”

Experience Columbus launched its new Live Forward marketing campaign in May to help rebuild the tourism economy, and research from Longwoods International indicates Ohio’s capital is in a good position to recover leisure travelers thanks to its location and the traditional make up of visitors. Studies show 69 percent of people are comfortable getting in their car to drive, and already 72 percent of Columbus’ visitors come in their own car thanks to its location within a one-day drive from more than half the U.S. population. Additionally, people typically drive up to 200 miles to visit friends and relatives, which are among the first trips people are planning. Already, 55 percent of all visits to Columbus are for those visiting friends and relatives, which is higher than the U.S. average, and these people tend to stay longer and spend more money.

Of course, health and safety continue to be the most important factors to travel returning and Columbus continues to be a leader in this regard. More than 150 businesses have signed the Live Forward Pledge, a commitment to follow measures outlined by local, state and federal health authorities while operating amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, many of the city’s largest visitor touchpoints have leveled-up with third-party validation through GBAC STAR™ Accreditation. The statewide mask mandate adds an additional level of comfort for visitors as research indicates that travelers are 61 percent more likely to visit a destination where masks are required.

“We are so proud of how Columbus shined during The Basketball Tournament (TBT), the first nationally televised basketball game to return since the onset of COVID-19, and the way the Columbus community came together to keep athletes healthy and make the event so wildly successful,” said Linda Logan, Greater Columbus Sports Commission executive director. “As opportunities for fans to attend games in person remain suspended, we were pleased to be able to welcome more than 800 participants to seven virtual sports reports during April and May.”

Since the public health order limiting mass gatherings to groups of 10, 177 groups scheduled to meet in Columbus in 2020 have canceled, representing 246,722 total rooms and an estimated direct visitor spend of $207 million. Of those, six groups have rescheduled their events to dates later in 2020, representing 690 total rooms and $718,000 in estimated direct visitor spend, while 18 groups have rescheduled for future years, between 2021 and 2026, representing 42,307 room nights.

From Jan. 1 to June 30, 2020, the STR report shows that all key performance metrics decreased.

Looking ahead, Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission booked future business accounting for 151,367 room nights, including the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, which will be in Columbus in October 2024 and will bring 2,000 attendees and an estimated $2.6 million in direct visitor spend.

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