Jan. 02–Bigger and better convention center? Check.
More Downtown hotel rooms? Check.
More big groups to fill them in 2018? Check.
Having seen an active year for gatherings in 2017, Experience Columbus expects 28 large citywide conventions — those with a peak-night reservation of more than 1,000 hotel rooms — in 2018.
That’s a 17 percent year-over-year increase. Most such groups book several years in advance.
“The outlook for the 2018 travel economy in Columbus is strong,” said Brian Ross, CEO of Experience Columbus, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, in a statement.
On the leisure tourism side, Ross said, “added assets such as the American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery (at COSI) … as well as the (under-construction) Scott’s Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, will help to increase family visits to the city.”
Among the groups coming to Columbus in 2018 for the first time will be the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International in June (15,000 attendees, 1,565 peak room nights); the National Urban League in August (4,500 attendees, 1,809 peak room nights); and the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (1,700 attendees, 1,200 peak room nights).
They’ll join returning Ohio-based groups such as Thirty-One Gifts and the AmericanHort horticulture conference and national groups such as the American Angus Association, the American Trucking Association and the American Dental Hygienists Association.
Increasing the number of large national groups Columbus can host has been a goal for tourism officials for years.
Because of its central location and status as the state capital, Columbus has had a steady business in statewide associations.
While those groups remain valuable customers of Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Convention Center, attracting more national groups can exponentially increase the benefit to local businesses and the tourism economy, which generates $9.7 billion in annual economic impact and supports nearly 75,000 jobs in central Ohio.
Tax revenue generated from hotel stays in Columbus not only helps support the hospitality and convention industry, but also helps fund arts organization grants and emergency human services. Experience Columbus said in November that local hotels are on track this year to again generate record so-called bed taxes of more than $46 million, after hitting a record $44.5 million in 2016.
Dan Williams, vice president of sales for Experience Columbus, said the convention bureau has been especially focused on adding national groups. Experience Columbus now has full-time salespeople in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, as well as in Columbus.
“You need the mix: the state association base, the national groups and the small ones,” Williams said.
“We’re definitely seeing the national numbers increase,” he added, based on greater marketing, word of mouth and awards such as the 2016 J.D. Power recognition of Columbus as the top Midwestern visitor destination.
In addition, attracting the upcoming American Society of Association Executives meeting for 2019 has raised Columbus’ profile among meeting planners, Williams said.
Columbus also benefits from being a lower-cost “value destination” compared to many big cities and its proximity to visitors, being within a day’s drive of nearly half of the U.S. population.
On the sports front, the Arnold Sports Festival and bodybuilding competition is the biggest annual event in Columbus, generally held between late February and early March. The Greater Columbus Sports Commission, a sister organization to Experience Columbus, will have one of its most anticipated events in late March, when the NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball championship comes to town for the first time.
Sports commission spokesman Bruce Wimbish said they’ve already attracted close to 100 volunteers to help out with the Final Four since opening volunteer registration two weeks ago.
Those interested in Women’s Final Four volunteer opportunities can visit columbuswff.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.