A needed boost: Grand Park helps keep tourism industry afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

Brenda Myers Full 3284
Brenda Myers

Hamilton County Tourism officials were optimistic going into 2020 because 2019 was a record-setting year for the county’s tourism industry. However, Hamilton County Tourism President and CEO Brenda Myers knew things would change when the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the U.S. economy.

But fortunately, the economic fallout for the local tourism industry turned out not to be as bad as she feared, thanks in large measure to youth travel sports.

“July was really good. Kudos to Bullpen (Tournaments) and Grand Park, and we should give some credit to our sales staff,” Myers said.

Myers said the results show how resilient the youth travel sports industry is, and that outdoor sporting events helped the tourism organization recoup some of its lost revenue in July.

Myers said four tourism industry subgroups in Hamilton County – the youth sports group, which brought the most visits to the county in 2020; the convention market group; the business transients; and the leisure market – helped stem revenue losses

“We have a lot of small training sessions and meetings and associations of different counties meet here,” Myers said of the convention group.

Because the convention groups typically meet in one room, Myers said the tourism group will likely continue to struggle until COVID-19 vaccines become widely available.

The business transient group attracts visitors to the county Monday through Thursday, largely via the many corporate headquarters in Carmel, Noblesville and Fishers. However, that group also took a hit in 2020.

“That drives a lot of weekday training sessions and meetings, and that has all been dried up,” Myers said. “That’s been a real struggle for everyone in the industry right now. We’ve seen it tick up at the holidays just a little, but January and February have never been great months for this, so we will hold our breath for these two months.

“We have planned for some bad months, and we’re sure hotels have as well.”

Myers said the leisure market, which includes families visiting the county, did well during the summer. She said the leisure market produced a better turnout than Hamilton County Tourism expected.

“I think families just needed to get away, because they came from fairly close in, like Greenwood,” Myers said. “People came up to stay, got a hotel room and went to Conner Prairie or did some hiking.”

Myers said economy hotels and extended-stay hotels did well in 2020 as a result of construction and transient travelers requiring lodging.

Hamilton County Tourism receives national tourism trend reports weekly, and Myers said the next few months look “fairly sad.”

“We hope everybody can make it through until spring,” she said.

Hamilton County Tourism did have to scale back operations to survive 2020, letting nine staff members go and all staff taking a three-month pay cut. The organization relinquished all of its leased spaces as well.

“We put whatever money we had back into the community in advertising and marketing,” Myers said. “We are going to be OK because we made such drastic changes in 2020, but as an economy, it’s going to be a rough winter. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for everybody.”

Myers said the industry may begin to pick up again in the spring, as Grand Park will host more activities, and the Carmel Marathon is expected to draw more visitors.

For more, visit visithamiltoncounty.com.

Upcoming events

Hamilton County Tourism is promoting its Great Dine Out campaign. The initiative showcases more than 35 restaurants in Hamilton County by offering discounts for carryout meals through Jan. 31. In February, Hamilton County Tourism will conduct a promotion around President’s Day weekend and Valentine’s Day promoting safe activities to do that weekend.

“People tend to do a little travel that weekend,” Hamilton County Tourism President and CEO Brenda Myers said.

Hamilton County Tourism also plans to do a spring break promotion as well. For more about upcoming promotions or to download the app for the free Great Dine Out passport, visit visithamiltoncounty.com.