Indianapolis’ convention and tourism business is on the rise.
Visitors to Indianapolis boosted the region’s economy with record spending for the fourth consecutive year, according to a study conducted by Rockport Analytics for Visit Indy, Indianapolis’ tourism marketing arm.
The study was unveiled Tuesday at Visit Indy’s annual meeting at the Indiana Convention Center.
According to the study, 28.2 million visitors in 2015—the most recent full year for which data is available—spent $4.9 billion and generated $682 million in state and local taxes in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.
Indianapolis has recorded new highs for annual visitor spending each year since 2012, the year the city hosted the NFL’s Super Bowl, according to the report.
The previous high came in 2014 when 27.4 million visitors spent $4.6 billion and produced $642 million in state and local taxes, according to Rockport Analytics.
Though the Rockport study doesn’t cover 2016, it also was a strong year for the local tourism industry.
The number of “consumed” group (hotel) room nights in 2016 was a record 822,654, beating 2012's Super Bowl-fueled high mark of 819,305 hotel room nights, according to Visit Indy. The groups that convened in 2016 were booked by Visit Indy as far back as 2005. Those numbers don’t include rooms booked by the hotels themselves.
Visit Indy booked 883,867 future hotel room nights (which were booked in conjunction with conventions, trade shows, meetings and events) in 2016 for events which will occur as far out as 2024, worth nearly $1 billion in future visitor spending, according to the organization. That’s the second-best number of future room nights Visit Indy has ever booked in a single year. The record of 904,717 was set in 2015.
Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops told IBJ he gives much of the credit for the recent increases to the publicity the city earned during the 2012 Super Bowl as well as a pair of 2014 newspaper articles—one in USA Today touting Indianapolis as the nation’s top convention city and another in the New York Times citing the city as one of “52 places to go” in the world.
“You can point to those three things and see they really had an impact,” Hoops told IBJ. “And they continue to have a positive impact, as does the positive word of mouth visits to this city continue to generate.”
While Visit Indy officials said it will be difficult this year to book as many hotel rooms into the future as it did last year, they expressed confidence 2017 will be another strong year.
“We have a strong pipeline heading into 2017. We have 2 million prospective room nights we’re working on and will be following up on in the coming year,” Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl said. “We know it’s competitive out there, and other major convention cities have us on their radars and are targeting the same events we are. It’s a full-court press to win as many of these events as we can.”
Key to the city’s future tourism industry growth, Hoops said, is continual improvement of Indianapolis’ offerings.
“We are always striving to make Indy a must-visit destination, not just for conventions or major sporting events but for general leisure tourism as well,” Hoops said in a written statement. “So we continually evolve and revise our Tourism Master Plan originally introduced in 2015 as a road map for Indy tourism growth.”
At Visit Indy’s annual meeting Tuesday, Hoops outlined numerous issues that are on his organization’s front burner. The items Hoops said his organization would be working on most urgently this year:
Indianapolis Motor Speedway experience downtown: Hoops said he met with Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Mark Miles earlier this week to discuss the possibility of developing some type of Speedway-related attraction in downtown Indianapolis. The idea would be to connect the IMS to downtown’s tourism district, benefitting the Speedway and downtown by driving traffic between the two locations, which are about four miles apart.
Workforce development: Hoops said Visit Indy will begin talking with officials from Indianapolis Public Schools and other school corporations about reaching children as early as elementary school with information about jobs in the tourism industry.
Hotel and Indiana Convention Center study: Hoops said there’s more than enough meeting and exhibit space, but not enough ballroom space. He added that there aren’t enough ballrooms—there’s especially need for one on the south end of the center—and the facility needs a larger ballroom than the facility currently contains. In terms of hotels, Hoops said studies show the city needs another 800-room hotel connected to the convention center, and though a site for that hasn’t been determined, he said it needs to be discussed.
White River development: Development possibilities are being considered, even building a beach along the shores of the river downtown.
Transportation: Visit Indy wants to get more direct air flights.
GM stamping plant property: Visit Indy wants to work with city officials to assure any development on the property is an attraction for the region.
Circle Centre evolution: Though Hoops didn’t offer any specific ideas, he noted the mall is key to supporting and growing local tourism and convention business.
Regional strategy: Hoops said it’s important for Visit Indy to continue to work with surrounding counties to maximize the region’s tourism growth.
Monument Circle enhancement: Hoops said the iconic downtown landmark must be enhanced and better utilized so that it is more of a destination and an attraction for local residents and visitors.