COLUMBUS, Ohio—The 2023 State of the Visitor Industry: Year-End Report made available today by Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission shows a strong year for the travel economy with substantial growth compared to 2022, major national and international events that brought attention to Ohio’s capital city and new initiatives that support local businesses and the hospitality community.
“Looking back at 2023, the word that comes to mind is monumental,” said Experience Columbus President and CEO Brian Ross, ECI. “We hosted some of the biggest events in our city’s history, events that have the potential to catapult Columbus’ reputation as a top place to hold a meeting, convention or sporting event. We also spent time listening to our community as we dug deep into understanding what the perception of Columbus is both locally and nationally. Investing in our community continued to be a top priority, and we worked to strengthen local businesses and the travel and hospitality community through several new and existing programs. We are proud of what we accomplished in 2023 because all of Columbus benefits from a thriving travel economy.”
From Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2023, Columbus hosted a total of 435 conventions, trade shows and sporting events, up from 324 last year. The biggest events of the year that were a community wide effort were PCMA Convening Leaders in January, which was attended by 3,300 participants and represented $4.2 million in direct visitor spending with the potential to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the next decade, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in June, which was attended by 1,200 participants and resulted in an estimated $1.5 million in direct visitor spend.
Some of the other top groups welcomed in 2023 included AmericanHort, the leading national association for the green industry that brought in 10,000 attendees and filled 10,232 rooms and had an estimated $8.8M in direct visitor spend; Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which brought 2,000 attendees and filled 5,169 hotel rooms and had an estimated $2.7M in direct visitor spend; and the National Precast Concrete Association, which brought 2,500 attendees and filled 4,311 hotel rooms and had an estimated $2.4M in direct visitor spend. On the sports side, NCAA Men’s and Women’s March Madness First & Second Rounds combined to sell more than 70,000 tickets, generating $9.4M in direct visitor spend. Hosting the 2023 MLS Cup at Lower.com Field in December was a big win for the Columbus Crew and for the city as it generated $8.8M in direct visitor spend.
From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2023, the STR report, which provides premium data benchmarking, analytics, and marketplace insights for the global hospitality industry, shows that all key performance metrics increased year over year:
Average in competitive set
Average Daily Rate (ADR):
*RevPAR is a hotel industry performance metric, which is calculated by multiplying a hotel’s ADR by its occupancy rate.
Bed tax collections from Jan. 1, 2023 through Dec. 31, 2023 totaled $54,748,580, up 12.5% over the same period in 2022, according to reports from the Office of City of Columbus Auditor Megan Kilgore.
The perception study, which was conducted by SMARInsights and was the first of its kind since 2017, found that there is a tremendous amount of support for tourism locally, with 92% of residents saying they believe tourism benefits the area. The study also found that Columbus has improved familiarity and image compared to 2017 research but is not top of mind when consumers think of leisure destinations. Familiarity with Columbus is low outside of Ohio because of the low investment made over the past two decades. Other key findings included that meeting planners ranked Columbus fourth among 11 cities as a place to hold a meeting. The biggest challenge for them 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.
Looking ahead, Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission booked 404 conventions, meetings, trade shows and sporting events for future years and conducted 74 site visits for meeting and event professionals representing a total of 326,807 room nights in future business.
“2023 was another productive year for the Sports Commission,” said Greater Columbus Sports Commission CEO and President Linda Logan. “Columbus became the first city to host Men’s and Women’s March Madness action on the same weekend with huge crowds at Nationwide Arena and the Schottenstein Center. Columbus was named a Top Sports Business City by the Sports Business Journal, and we secured the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and MLS All-Star Game in 2024. Our owned events continued to flourish with record participation in Community Cup and more than 90% of our Youth Camp participants attending on scholarship.”
As the first quarter of 2024 gets underway, the year is already off to a strong start with all eyes on the city’s sports scene. From Jan. 22-28, 2024, more than 180 athletes competed at Nationwide Arena in the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships. With 60,000 tickets sold, the event saw the highest attendance for a championship since 2018, which was an Olympic year. The entire Columbus community came together and created unique activations and collaborations, including ones with Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus Fashion Alliance, Lincoln Theatre and Kings Arts Complex, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Phoenix Rising Printmaking Cooperative, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and many more.
Also kicking off 2024, Columbus’ culinary scene was celebrated as two local chefs were selected by the James Beard Foundation® as semifinalists in its 2024 Restaurant and Chef Awards. BJ Lieberman, chef/owner of Hiraeth, Chapman’s Eat Market and Ginger Rabbit, and Avishar Barua, chef/owner of Agni and Joya’s, were named semifinalists in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category, representing the top talent in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. This comes on the heels of Columbus being named one of the Best Destinations for Culinary Travel in 2024 by Essence.
“We are thrilled for Avishar and BJ and the recognition this brings to our city,” said Sarah Townes, ECI, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer for Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. “National buzz continues to grow about our culinary scene, and it’s going to be a big year with highly anticipated new restaurant openings and Guy Fieri’s first-ever Flavortown Fest coming in June. We look forward to welcoming visitors to Columbus to experience our food scene firsthand.”
To view past Experience Columbus and Greater Columbus Sports Commission quarterly reports, visit ExperienceColumbus.com/Reports.
About Experience Columbus
Experience Columbus is the destination marketing organization for the Columbus region, dedicated to growing visitor spending and enhancing the visitor experience. Annually, visitors make 49.6 million trips to Greater Columbus for conventions, trade shows, sporting events and leisure visits, spending $6.6 billion and supporting nearly 75,000 jobs. Columbus is proud to have hosted the 2023 U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in June 2023 and PCMA Convening Leaders 2023, which brought together the world's business events professionals in January 2023. For more information, visit ExperienceColumbus.com.
About the Greater Columbus Sports Commission
The Greater Columbus Sports Commission’s mission is to rally Columbus to compete and win sporting events, providing a singular athlete and fan experience and positively impacting image, economy and lifestyle. Since 2002, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission has brought nearly 600 new sporting events to Columbus, generating an estimated $625 million in direct visitor spending. For more information, visit ColumbusSports.org.