Experience Columbus: Potential 'Huge' for Tourism, Meetings in Central Ohio

Interest in Columbus, Ohio — and Central Ohio, in general — is reaching "all-time highs," according to Experience Columbus, the city's convention and visitors bureau, which announced last week that the visitor industry in Columbus continued to grow through the first three months of 2012 after rebounding in 2011.

"The potential for growth of the tourism and hospitality industry here in Central Ohio is huge," said Experience Columbus President and CEO Paul Astleford.

In the first quarter alone, Columbus hosted nine large annual groups — including six state associations — as well as seven OHSAA State Championships, three NCAA Championships, the Olympic Team Trials for Weightlifting and the USA Swimming Grand Prix. Short-term bookings for small to mid-sized groups also increased, as did individual business travel and future bookings, the latter of which accounted for 91,237 room nights through March 31, Experience Columbus reported.

Among the groups booked in the first quarter: the American Society for Engineering Education's Annual Conference and Exposition, taking place in 2017 with an expected attendance of 4,000, and the NHL All Star Weekend for 2013, with an expected attendance of 140,000, including 20,000 visitors.

"We are working hard to build Columbus' national profile and the city is clearly gaining respect as a place for meetings, events and leisure," Astleford said. "Hosting events like the 2012 EcoSummit this fall and the NHL All Star Weekend in 2013 continue to raise our profile as a national and international destination."

According to Smith Travel Research, Columbus area hotels had an average occupancy rate of 56.2 percent in the first quarter, up 5.8 percent year to date. Average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR), meanwhile, were $84.66 and $47.61, respectively — up 5.6 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively, year to date. Nationwide, occupancy rates, ADR and RevPAR average 56.8 percent, $103.54 and $58.78, respectively.

Based on hotels' strong performance, hotel/motel bed tax collections are up 18.23 percent year to date, with collections so far totaling $6.5 million, according to reports from the City of Columbus.

Concluded Astleford, "We continue to see growth in all sectors, but still have a long way to go to close the gap on our competitive set in the national marketplace. With the visitor industry currently representing 10 percent of the local economy and supporting some 62,000 jobs, we have an opportunity to play a significant role in Columbus' renaissance by continuing to market and sell the capital city as a national destination."