Special to 1808Delaware

Experience Columbus, the destination marketing organization for the Columbus region (including Delaware County) dedicated to growing visitor spending and enhancing the visitor experience, recently announced new insights into the local travel economy and shared results from a community wide perception study.

Nearly 200 members of the hospitality community gathered at the Greater Columbus Convention Center near the end of September to learn about the current economic climate, national travel trends, hotel trends, traveler sentiment and residents and visitors’ perception of Columbus during the second annual Industry Day event presented by Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.  

“The travel economy is a vital part of the local economy, and yesterday we learned more about the nearly 50 million annual visitors to the Columbus region and gained valuable insight into how several key audiences, including residents, visitors and meeting planners, perceive Columbus. Some of the highlights from Industry Day include that our overall number of visitors grew 16 percent in 2022 to 49.6 million and that residents are positive about Columbus and are positive about tourism. Results from the perception study, which was the first of its kind since 2017, showcase the incredible opportunity we have to tell the Columbus story outside of Ohio and attract more visitors to the region with more investment.” 

Brian Ross, President and CEO of Experience Columbus.

2024 forecast predicts economic slowdown, resilient leisure travel market 

Adam Sacks, Founder and President of Tourism Economics, kicked off the event with a presentation about the state of the economy nationwide, a celebration of Columbus’ recovery post-pandemic and a look ahead to 2024. Highlights from his presentation include:  

  • Columbus room demand is approaching 2019 levels.  
  • Columbus room rates have remained strong and are 11% higher than 2019 levels. 
  • Columbus airport activity is back to nearly 100% and is slightly ahead of 2019 levels.  
  • Despite a likely recession in late 2023, leisure travel is expected to be resilient due to excess savings serving as a buffer and people prioritizing travel above most other categories of spending.  
  • Business travelers nationwide expect to take more trips in the next six months. 

Perception study shows community pride, support for tourism and opportunity  

As the destination marketing organization for the Columbus region, one of the primary focus areas for Experience Columbus is to strengthen brand awareness for Columbus. The organization collaborates with key organizations across the city, including the City of Columbus, One Columbus, the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation and many others, to align marketing efforts and messaging about Columbus. Throughout the spring and summer Experience Columbus worked with SMARInsights, an independent research company, to better understand how key audiences, including residents, visitors and meeting planners, perceive Columbus.  
 
Denise Miller, Executive Vice President of SMARI, shared highlights from the 2023 perception study, including:  

  • Residents are positive about Columbus and are positive about tourism. Those who are familiar with Experience Columbus are positive about the organization. 
  • 86% of residents rate Columbus a good place to live.  
  • 87% of residents rate Columbus a good place to own a business.  
  • 77% of residents rate Columbus a good place to visit.  
  • 81% of residents think tourism is good for Columbus and 92% say tourism benefits the area.  
  • Familiarity with Columbus is low outside of Ohio as a result of the low investment made over the past two decades. 
  • Columbus has improved familiarity and image compared to 2017 research but is not top of mind when consumers think of leisure destinations.  
  • Consumers are looking for diversity in product, and an inclusive and welcoming destination. Columbus fits this profile but isn’t currently top-of-mind. Focusing on the products of family fun, outdoor recreation, a destination that’s good for couples and families, the city’s interesting neighborhoods and memorable experiences, as well as the city’s personality attributes of being playful, inclusive, confident and on the rise, will improve the overall image. 
  • Meeting planners ranked Columbus 4th among 11 cities as a place to hold a meeting. 
  • 29% ranked Columbus the best place to hold a meeting. 
  • Educating consumers about Columbus will increase visitation. 
  • The biggest challenge for meeting planners is the perceived appeal of the destination to attendees. Positioning Columbus as an appealing leisure destination will support its position as a meeting/convention destination, and support growth in this segment. 

New visitor data showcases who current visitors are and what they do while visiting 

Amir Eylon, President and CEO and Partner of Longwoods International, shared insights into who the current travelers to Columbus are and what they do while visiting. Key highlights from the 2022 research include:  

  • 49.6 million day and overnight leisure visitors, sports and arts enthusiasts, convention attendees and business travelers visited Columbus in 2022 (up 16% year over year).  
  • The number of overnight visits increased by 12% from 2021 to 9.9 million in 2022.  
  • Daytrip visits grew by 2% to 39.7 million in 2022.  
  • The average length of stay decreased slightly from 2.5 nights in 2021 to 2.4 nights in 2022. 
  • The main purpose for an overnight trip to Columbus is:  
  • 47% visiting friends and family  
  • 13% attending a special event 
  • 12% attending a meeting or convention or on a business trip 
  • 5% business-leisure trip 
  • The top five activities overnight visitors experience in Columbus: 
  • Shopping 
  • Attending a celebration  
  • Sightseeing 
  • Bar/nightclub 
  • Business meeting 
  • 68% of overnight visitors are very satisfied with their overall trip experience.
  • 82% of overnight visitors have been to Columbus before.

Data showcases the impact of Experience Columbus’ marketing efforts 

Cree Lawson, Founder and CEO of Arrivalist, which provides destination marketing organizations visitation intelligence and helps link consumer behavior to marketing efforts, shared additional research into visitor points of interest and the impact of Experience Columbus’ marketing efforts. 
 
Key takeaways from Lawson’s presentation include:  

  • 80% of visitors who went to key points of interest such as the University District, Downtown, Short North Arts District, Ohio State Fairgrounds, OSU games and the Area District, stay overnight.  
  • Targeting a handful of potential 250+ mile markets could increase overnight stays by 33%. 
  • More than 60% of overnight guests do not stay in any paid accommodation, but Columbus visitors are more likely to stay in hotels.  
  • Ad viewers were more likely to arrive Sunday through Tuesday and visit from 250+ miles away.  
  • Ad-exposed visitors were 1.4 times more likely to visit than un-exposed visitors and stayed 10% longer.  

Hotel sector nationally and locally continues to recover from the pandemic 

Finally, Hannah Smith, Senior Analyst with STR, which provides data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights for the global hospitality industry, shared insights into Columbus’ hotel performance. Highlights from her presentation include: 

  • Since the third quarter of 2022, monthly demand largely exceeds 2019 levels in Columbus, but occupancy still lags due to increased supply in the market. 
  • Columbus’ ADR growth is being driven by weekend demand. We need group and transient business to help fill gaps during mid-week. 
  • No regional markets (Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland or Indianapolis) are ahead of 2019 occupancy levels. 
  • RevPAR, the hotel industry performance metric calculated by multiplying a hotel’s ADR by its occupancy rate, recovery to pre-pandemic levels is expected in 2024 for Columbus. 
  • In our competitive set, the group/transient mix is roughly one-third group and two-thirds transient, while in Columbus, the group/transient demand mix is split 50/50. This further reinforces the importance of group business to Columbus.  

To learn more about Industry Day, visit www.ExperienceColumbus.com/IndustryDay. Experience Columbus typically commissions a yearly visitor profile study from Longwoods International. The organization also receives a biennial report on visitor economic impact from Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company focusing on the intersection of the economy and travel sector.  
 
Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission also share quarterly State of the Industry reports, which provide insight into the travel economy. To view all past and future reports, visit Experiencecolumbus.com/Reports.

Source: Experience Columbus; Photo: Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

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