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Tourism Losses Will Have 'Tremendous Impact' On Columbus Economy

The marquee on the Ohio Theatre in April 2020.
David Holm
The marquee on the Ohio Theatre in April 2020.

Columbus has lost about $145 million in tourist spending due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at an online Columbus Metropolitan Club forum Wednesday, Experience Columbus CEO Brian Ross said the city lost about 180,000 hotel room nights in the last two months.

“We know there’s going to be a tremendous impact on the overall revenues to the community,” Ross says. “We know right now that just since the second week of March through the end of August we’ve had to cancel or reschedule over 100 different groups.”

Ross says some of those events are annual conferences that organizations will not re-book this year.

The lost revenue has a ripple effect. The hotel bed tax helps fund several ventures in the city, including the arts organizations and the Franklin County Convention and Facilities Authority.

“In April of 2020 in our metropolitan statistical area, hotels had revenues of about $50 million,” Ross says. “The new data that we just received as estimates are about $10 million.”

Concerts, festivals and other events also disappeared in March, as Ohio banned gatherings of more than 10 people. Among the canceled events were the annual AmericanHort conference and a tour of the popular musical "Wicked."

Columbus Association For The Performing Arts president Chad Whittington says there’s no official timeline to reintroduce live performances to the city.

“There are things that we can do,” Whittington says. “We can put up barriers between staff and the public that’s coming in, we can do touchless tickets so we never have to touch the same piece of paper, we can spread out lines and restrict number of people in the restrooms.”

Whittington says the organization would consider requiring audiences to wear masks, but notes that measure is more controversial.

“I think no matter what the timing is on re-opening, and we don’t know exactly what that timing is, doing things like that are going to allow us to open earlier,” Whittington says.

With current social distancing recommendations of six feet between parties, Whittington says theatres would only be able to seat to 30% capacity, which would not be worthwhile financially.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.