Fueled by exposure from the 2012 Super Bowl and a USA Today article touting the city’s convention prowess, Visit Indy booked a record number of hotel room nights in 2014.
Visit Indy said it booked 880,552 hotel room nights last year—180,167 more than in 2013 and 130,552 more than its own projections for the year.
Conventions and corporate meetings are often committed years in advance, so the 2014 bookings count rooms for conventions and corporate meetings scheduled through 2026, but the vast majority of them will be used from 2015 through 2019, Visit Indy officials said.
The numbers include the 2019 National Rifle Association annual convention booked in December, but not the one in 2023 due to Visit Indy’s own (somewhat complex) audit rules. They also don’t include the 2021 men’s NCAA Final Four because that deal was not yet finalized at the end of last year.
Visit Indy, previously known as the Indianapolis Convention & Visitor's Association, has been keeping the data since its founding in 1923.
The previous high mark was 814,520 hotel room nights booked in 2002. That number included 347,760 room nights for the National FFA Convention from 2006 to 2012—and was done under a slightly different and more favorable set of auditing rules, Visit Indy officials said.
Only three times since 2002 has Visit Indy booked more than 700,000 hotel room nights in a single year, and only once in that time frame has it topped 750,000. In 2013, Visit Indy booked 700,385 hotel room nights.
Visit Indy, through a centralized system, books hotel rooms for conventions and corporate meetings for many of the hotels throughout central Indiana.
Some hotel rooms for conventions and corporate gatherings also are booked outside Visit Indy’s system, though the majority of the rooms connected to conventions and large corporate gatherings come through Visit Indy. Hospitality officials say the association’s bookings are the best gauge of the health of the city’s convention and tourism industry.
In addition, Visit Indy also set a record in 2014 for summer weekend leisure hotel room night sales, with 296,521 room night sold—and consumed—last year. That tops the 274,000 leisure hotel room nights sold in 2013.
Those gains, Visit Indy officials said, were fueled by $6 million spent—partially from a grant—in advertising over the last six years.
Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops said there were five major factors in the record convention-related hotel room bookings:
— a healthy pipeline of business that has been in the works for two to three years;
— exposure from the 2012 Super Bowl;
— USA Today’s March 2014 article touting Indianapolis as the nation’s No. 1 convention city;
— a recently instituted 12-touch sales and marketing program;
— Indiana Sports Corp.’s success in attracting events, including Big Ten basketball tournaments and football championship game.
“It was a combination of events that came together for us,” explained Hoops, who became CEO in 2011.
Hoops said the Super Bowl exposure and USA Today article had a particularly big impact.
“I can think of three big conventions—the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, American Speech Language and Hearing Association, and the American Academy of Physicians Assistants—that wouldn’t have booked without the USA Today article, he said. "Doors that wouldn’t open before, you’d say ‘Well, did you know that we were rated the top convention destination by USA Today?’ and [meeting planners’] eyes would light up, and they’d say ‘Oh really. Tell me more.’”
Hoops said his staff expects more improvement.
“Our goal is to not let 2014 be the record for long,” he said. “I don’t think we can break that record in 2015, but it won’t be another 12 years before we break that record again. We’re still on the positive swing of momentum.”
Earlier this year, local hoteliers were voicing concerns over a dearth of convention business in the coming years—especially 2015 and 2016.
Now, Indianapolis appears to be bucking a trend.
“You often see an increase in business right after a convention center expands, and then within two to four years, you’ll see a dropoff,” said Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas at San Antonio professor and author of several studies on convention centers.
In early 2011, a $275 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center was completed, adding nearly 350,000 square feet of exhibit space, pushing the facility from 32nd-largest in the United States to 16th.
The facility now has 749,000 square feet of exhibit space, and when combined with Lucas Oil Stadium a quarter mile to the south, 1.2 million square feet of space.
Hoops said he's confident Visit Indy’s marketing plan—which includes touching base with key meeting planners and national associations once a month—will continue to pay dividends for the city’s hospitality industry.
“We’re constantly working a fine line between bothering meeting planners and really letting them know we want their business,” Hoops said. “But that consistent, methodic [marketing] effort, I believe, has really started to pay big dividends.”