Central Ohio annually hosts events such as the All American Quarter Horse Congress, Rock on the Range, Mopar Nationals and the Arnold Sports Festival that help create jobs and pump up the local economy as visitors shop and dine.
Megumi Robinson, associate director of Experience Columbus, said visitors annually make more than 39.3 million trips to Columbus and its surrounding communities, spending $6.4 billion and generating $9.7 billion in economic impact and supporting nearly 75,000 jobs.
Tourism supports one in every 12 jobs in Franklin County, and state, local and federal tax revenue generated by visitors to the county is estimated at $1.13 billion, according to Robinson.
That tax revenue is at a rate averaging $2,384 for each of the 474,683 households in Franklin County.
The five industry sectors that benefit the most from visitor spending, according to Robinson, are retail, food and beverage, transportation, entertainment and lodging.
She said the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the Arnold Sports Festival are two events that bring the most visitors to Columbus.
The Arnold attracts 200,000 attendees and generates $51.4 million in economic impact, Robinson said, while the Quarter Horse Congress attracts 650,000 attendees and generates a reported $275 million in economic impact.
In addition to the annual events, Robinson said, many large national conventions are held in Columbus.
"One example of an upcoming convention that will be a game-changer for the city, in terms of positioning Columbus to book future events, is the American Society of Association Executives 2019 Annual Meeting and Exposition," she said.
"The annual conference will draw over 5,000 attendees to the Greater Columbus Convention Center Aug. 10-13, 2019, filling 16,800 hotel rooms and generating over $16 million in direct visitor spending," she said.
While the immediate impact of hosting ASAE is great, Robinson said, the ongoing effect is even greater.
"Of the more than 5,000 attendees, a majority are the final decision-makers or have significant influence on the location of future meetings," she said. "Past host cities of the ASAE annual meeting found that 20 percent of association executives who attend the annual meeting will book their own meeting in the host city in the next five years, representing $500 million in revenue for the host city."
Smart and open
Brian Ross, Experience Columbus president and CEO, said what Columbus has to offer first and foremost is its brand.
"We're a smart and open community," he said. "We're welcoming to all diverse visitors who come through. We do a great job of providing customer services."
Last year, Columbus ranked "Highest in Visitor Satisfaction in the Midwest" by the market research company J.D. Power in a "Destination Experience Satisfaction Study," Ross said.
"That comes from our collaborative nature," he added. "The county and city work together and the civic and business sector work together, and our community believes in our industry. They see when we bring in those large groups, what it means for a national awareness."
Ross said Columbus is a destination that's very accessible from a driving distance and a flight perspective.
"We're only an hour flight from major hubs in the U.S., looking at Washington, D.C., and New York, and the drivability is second to none."
He said Columbus offers a tremendous experience at a good price.
"You have the Arena District, baseball, hockey, concerts, Disney on Ice, the rodeo -- a diverse offering of entertainment," Ross said. "When you focus on conventions and trade shows, the larger the event, the better it is for the community. They take up a lot of hotel rooms.
"The Convention Center is finishing up a renovation in July," he added. "From our standpoint, it won't be the largest convention center but the best from a customer-user standpoint."
Ross said Columbus is pedestrian-friendly, citing the walk down High Street from the Convention Center that leads visitors to a wonderful experience in the Short North.
"There's tremendous local retail and the best culinary you will find that are specific to Columbus," he said.
When looking at the number of jobs and the number of people coming into Columbus, Ross said, it's big business and it means a lot to the economy.
Visit Gahanna Director Laurie Jadwin, who serves on the executive committee of the Ohio Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, said the overall impact of tourism around Ohio in 2016 was $42 billion, supporting 443,000 jobs.
In Gahanna alone, she said, big dividends come from the Arnold, Rock on the Range and the USA Volleyball Tournament.
"Each of these events generates a significant economic impact to the Columbus area, extending to suburbs like Gahanna and other communities surrounding the (Interstate 270) outerbelt," Jadwin said.
According to Gahanna hotel operators, she said, during the last two years, the Arnold generated an average of 170 room nights for Gahanna hotels, with an economic benefit exceeding $50,000 to Gahanna through hotel stays, dining and more.
"Over the past few years, Rock on the Range has grown to become a significant economic driver for the central Ohio area, with visitors occupying hotel rooms around the outerbelt," Jadwin said. "In Gahanna, the event generated an average of 120 room nights over three days, for an economic impact of $36,000 to the Gahanna community."
Similarly, the USA Volleyball tournament held in downtown Columbus continues to grow in size and, in turn, economic impact generated. In 2015, Jadwin said, the tournament generated more than 300 room nights in Gahanna hotels alone, generating close to $100,000 for Gahanna in economic impact.
Dan Moder, director of Explore Licking County, said that county's mainstay is the Mopar Nationals at National Trail Raceway in August.
"It's singularly one of the biggest events that fills every motel room in Licking and other counties, including Muskingum and Franklin," he said. "That's the top draw and revenue generators from Friday through Sunday."
Moder said numbers reported to him from the raceway show an attendance of 36,000 spread over the weekend, filling 2,800 hotel rooms with revenue of about $300,000.
"The (Utica Sertoma) Velvet Ice Cream Festival is a long-standing 50-year draw," he said. "We tend to see more folks making that a day trip from the central Ohio region."
Growing in popularity, Moder added, is the Granville candlelight walking tour, held the first weekend in December, and Newark's Canal Market District.
"It's mind-boggling how many people cram into Granville during the kickoff for the holidays," he said. "The new Canal Market District in downtown Newark is one of the largest open-area farm markets in the state."
Moder said a two-block district south of the square offers an "over the top" farmers market.
"It's under roof and in a short amount of time has become an amazing community gathering spot on Tuesday and Friday evenings," he said. "It was a gift to the community from the Thomas J. Evans Foundation.
"Our call to action to consumers is to find your way here because when you get here, you'll get blown away with what we've got," he said.