By Marla Matzer Rose, The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus area hotels had a record year in 2015 by every key performance measure, reflecting strong visitor numbers for conventions and special events.
Buoyed by such things as the NHL All-Star Game in January, big volleyball and softball tournaments and annual groups such as horticultural trade association AmericanHort, Columbus hotels saw strong gains in occupancy and revenue for the year.
Brian Ross, CEO of convention and visitors bureau Experience Columbus, touted the numbers to the group’s board during a meeting Wednesday morning at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University. He pointed out that although Columbus still was ranked toward the bottom in key measures compared with 10 cities it considers key competitors, Columbus’ growth in those measures — occupancy, average daily rate and revenue per available room —- ranked third among its competitors.
Further, Ross said, Columbus’ revenue per room is now within a dollar of the cities that ranked just above it, including Cleveland, St. Louis and Milwaukee. The other seven competitive cities are Cincinnati, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Louisville, Indianapolis and Kansas City.
Columbus long has struggled to bring up its room rates in comparison with competitive cities, in part because many of the groups that hold meetings in the state capital are state associations or other organizations that can only pay government-approved rates. On the flip side, Columbus competes favorably with other cities because of its relative affordability.
Downtown Columbus hotels were a particular bright spot, driven in part by very successful publicly-financed Hilton Columbus Downtown that opened in fall 2012 across from the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Downtown occupancy was 70.3 percent, up 6.3 percent over 2014; average daily rate was $136.17, a 5.6 percent increase; and revenue per room was $95.72, a 12.3 percent increase.
Since the year the Hilton opened, during which time several other Downtown Columbus hotels also have undergone renovations, Downtown properties have seen a huge surge in revenue while also increasing occupancy from about 66 percent in 2012 to the current 70.3 percent. That’s significant because there was some fear that adding a big publicly financed hotel might drain business from others Downtown and not contribute to an overall increase in business.
The possibility of adding more full-service hotels near the convention center is being studied by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, which oversees the convention center, the downtown Hilton and Nationwide Arena.
Chris Coffin, general manager of the Hilton Columbus Downtown, cautioned that it may be hard to have another record year of growth in 2016 given the ongoing renovation of the convention center. Construction is being done to accommodate longstanding groups such as the Arnold Sports Festival in March but may preclude being able to take in some new business this year. But Coffin stressed that the $125 million renovation is a good investment for the future.
Also with an eye to the future, Experience Columbus is going after the annual convention in 2018, 2019 or 2021 of the American Society of Association Executives, a national group representing thousands of professional who book meetings for their own groups on a regular basis.
Brian Ellis, an Experience Columbus board member and president of Nationwide Realty Investors, told fellow board members that getting the executive association would be on par with the biggest conventions Columbus has sought in recent years, including the Democratic and Republican national conventions that this year are going to Philadelphia and Cleveland, respectively.
“It would be a game changer,” Ellis said.