Tourism and hospitality are two industries hit hard during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With the vaccine getting into more arms, the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau is crafting a way forward out of the pandemic.
"We're planning for recovery and we're planning for a safe recovery," CVB President and CEO Julie Calvert tells WVXU. "Our goal is to restore confidence in travel, and to do that we have to show our visitors what we are doing to mitigate their safety, whether they're coming here for a meeting or they're coming here for a leisure visit."
Tourism was a $5 billion industry prior to the pandemic, accounting for more than 80,000 Tri-State jobs. In stark contrast, Cincinnati hosted just one convention after the shutdowns began. In 2020, 166 groups canceled events, taking with them 132,000 hotel room nights, 173,000 attendees, and a total economic impact loss of $114 million.
Fortunately, Calvert says, many of those rebooked for future years, some as soon as 2021 and one as far out as 2026. Other bookings are starting to return but it could take a few years to see the economic impact.
About 15 to 20 groups moved events to the latter half of 2021. That's roughly "50,000 room nights, 27,000 attendees for a total of $36 million we're in the process of rebooking for '21 or even into '22 or '23," Calvert notes.
Pandemic restrictions are evolving and the CVB aims to be ready as they lift. That includes messages about how area restaurants, hotels and attractions are handling safety protocols like social distancing, and other improvements, including certification of cleaning standards from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council.
"We're also offering our meeting planners the opportunity to do hybrid meetings so they can have some people in-person and others can have have a virtual option," says Calvert. "A lot of the hotels and the convention center (have) new air circulation with clean air coming in on a constant basis. So there's many things that we're doing and many things more that we will do as we learn to operate in a post-COVID environment."
The agency is working on advertising and getting messages out now to groups planning and scheduling meetings so events can be in place and assured of safety protocols once restrictions lift.
In terms of leisure visitors, Calvert says the CVB is working with the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau to advertise the region. They're targeting 'comeback and recovery' messaging in key regional cities to attract tourists.
"They're aggressive campaigns but we have to be careful in timing those correctly, and we want to do it safely and responsibly because we're always mindful that there could be additional surges and we want to be careful with that and follow the governors' guidelines and the CDC guidelines," says Calvert.
While things aren't fully open yet, the bureau wants people to know travel can be done safely, and provide information about what precautions are in place.
"If you choose to come to Cincinnati for a Reds game or FC Cincinnati or to visit the Museum Center or the Symphony, you can do that, but here's what you have to do to make sure that you're safe, and here's what we're doing to make sure that we keep you safe."