Visit Indy reports seventh straight year of rising visitor spending

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New numbers released by city tourism agency Visit Indy show an annual uptick in local tourism-related visits.

A record 28.8 million people visited the Indianapolis in 2017, generating a $5.4 billion economic impact, according to figures released Wednesday afternoon by the group as part of its State of Tourism event. That's up from 28.6 million visitors and $5.2 billion in 2016. The year-over-year increase was the seventh straight for the city.

The annual figures, compiled by Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics, provide a comprehensive look at the economic impact tourism has on the city. The report includes an amalgamation of thousands of data points that takes about a full year to crunch, said Chris Gahl said, vice president for Visit Indy.

Gahl said several big name events—GenCon, the FFA convention and the Indianapolis 500 among them—as key reasons for the continued growth.

The economic impact figure includes tourism-related wages, state and local taxes, and profit for tourism-related businesses, he said. The increase  reflects a continuing rise in local revenue from tourism activity.

About half the figure reflects wages and benefits ($2.7 billion) for 81,600 hospitality and tourism industry employees, while another $725 million was collected in state and local taxes.

The state reported in December that overall visitors to Indiana increased from 78.9 million in 2016 to 79.9 million in 2017, and that total tourism spending rose in that period from $12.2 billion to $12.7 billion. Those figures include the Indianapolis area .

One of the most significant figures from the report, Gahl said, was the number of future group room nights booked in 2018 in area hotels for as far out as 2026. The category is a key metric in the tourism industry.

In 2018, Visit Indy had its second-best year on record, securing 896,544 future room nights for conventions, trade shows, meetings and events. The figure also marks the fifth straight year of more than 870,000 hotel room nights being booked in advanced.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a written statement that the tourism industry serves as something of a hallmark for the city’s economy and continues to attract people to the area.

“It is through our tourism industry that we see most clearly what residents already know—Indianapolis is a city that has something for everybody,” Hogsett said. “The tourism records that we continue to break are a testament to the work of so many in the hospitality industry who welcome visitors to this city and introduce them to this incredible place we call home.”

According to Gahl, Indianapolis is almost fully utilizing its convention capacity and is expected to continue doing so in the coming years even as more downtown hotels and more convention space come online.

The next big facilities addition is a $120 million publicly funded  project that would add a 50,000-square-foot ballroom to the Indiana Convention Center. It would be developed at Pan Am Plaza by Kite Realty Group in conjunction with two privately-funded Hilton-branded hotels that would provide more than 1,400 rooms. City officials have indicated they’d like to have the development completed by the end of 2022.

During the January meeting of the Capital Improvement Board, Visit Indy Executive Director Leonard Hoops said without those additions, the city would likely lose several big events, including GenCon and FFA.

According to Gahl, GenCon renewed its contract with Indianapolis for an additional year, through 2023, “within hours” of the convention center expansion news being made public—contingent on the project being completed in a timely manner. 

Gahl said the project will help the city lure more events. At least 200 conventions have declined to come to Indianapolis, he said, because the convention center didn't have the capacity they needed. Visit Indy has re-initiated conversations with several of those groups in the months since expansion plans were announced.

Several other groups signed on in 2018 to bring their events to Indianapolis, including the Routes America 2020 convention, which will bring major airline decision-makers; the American Academy of Otolaryngology 2025 convention, which is expected to draw 10,000 surgeons; and the 2026 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Several other big-name sporting events are also scheduled, including the 2021 NBA All-Star Weekend, the 2021 NCAA Men’s Final Four and the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship.

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