Visit Indy delivered its annual State of Tourism Tuesday with President and Chief Executive Officer Leonard Hoops expressing a lot of optimism for 2022, following a strong recovery in the Indianapolis tourism sector last year. He says the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament last March and the National College Football Championship last month served as bookends to the recovery. In between was a number of conventions returning to Indy for in-person events, such as Gen Con, Performance Racing Industry (PRI) and the National FFA convention.
“We got most of the major shows back last year. And it all started because we were able to work with the Marion County Public Health Department and the State Health Department,” said Hoops in an interview with Inside INdiana Business.
He says hosting smaller events safely in 2020 proved to Indiana health officials that bigger events could be held.
“And hosting all that tournament gave more confidence to all the groups that they could meet in 2021 in Indy,” added Hoops.
Hoops says Visit Indy set a 2021 goal for downtown hotel room occupancy to reach 650,000 collective room nights. The number is based on major events and contracted stays at hotels. Hoops says the city surpassed the goal by booking 703,000 room nights. Prior to the pandemic, the city would register 800-900 thousand room stays.
Looking ahead, Visit Indy has set a goal of 715,000 room nights.
“Which is not a huge leap over the 703. But we had some anomalies that helped us get to that 703. The rooms that were added in March and April last year, that we hadn’t anticipated, were related to March Madness,” explained Hoops.
Hoops told the 650 community and tourism leaders Tuesday the city’s downtown hotel occupancy in conjunction with conventions and major sporting events was the highest rate in the country, according to data from STR Inc., a hospitality analytics firm in Tennessee.
Hoop said one of the big gains last year was the National Confectioners Association moving its Sweets & Snacks Expo to Indianapolis from Chicago. It held been held in the Windy City for more than two decades.
“But they made the determination that they wouldn’t be able to meet in the spring of 2021 in Chicago under state of Illinois rules and so they reached out to a number of cities. They ended up picking us and had a great show,” said Hoops.
While Hoops would like to see the show return to Indy, the NCA website says the convention will return to Chicago in June.
However, Hoops remains optimistic for tourism recovery to continue in 2022.
“I believe by the second quarter of 2022 we will see probably 90 plus percent normalcy with the normalcy being the 2019 year,” said Hoops. “With the only caveat being another [COVID] variant of interest that has epidemiologists and virologists concerned.”
Hoops is also excited about the growing infrastructure for hosting conventions. He says construction will begin this December on the Indiana Convention Center expansion project, which includes the construction of an 800-room, 40-story Signia by Hilton hotel.
“You’re going to see some things downtown that will only be available in downtown that start to emerge again in these next this next 12 to 18 months that I think you’ll see people will re-fall back in love with downtown Indianapolis.”