Ready To Gather

Returning events spark optimism for local tourism industry

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Local tourism officials are sounding an optimistic note about events returning this year as the hospitality industry looks to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

The planned events include an additional race at Ironman Raceway, which is hosting the Hoosier GNCC in May. Fans are also expected to gather for August’s AMA Pro Racing-sanctioned Ironman National and the GNCC season finale in October.

Plans are also being made for the Strawberry Festival, Taste of Montgomery County, Friends of Sugar Creek Canoe Race and Crawfordsville Main Street’s summer concerts and lunch events.

“People are hopeful that events can happen, and I think we know so much more [about the coronavirus] than we did,” said Heather Shirk, executive director of the Montgomery County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The drop of travel during the pandemic devastated the U.S. hotel industry, which has laid off millions of workers and faced closures amid historically-low occupancy rates.

The hospitality industry workforce is down nearly 4 million jobs compared to the same time in 2019, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. More than one-third of hotels were expected to face bankruptcy or be forced to sell by the end of 2020.

While half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty this year, industry analysts say optimism about the COVID-19 vaccine will set the stage for a comeback in leisure travel.

“But [people] are wanting to travel to small rural communities, so I think that bodes well for us,” Shirk told members of the Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Commission during a virtual meeting Thursday.

The return of visitors will also pump more tax dollars into the economy. States and local communities were expected to lose $16.8 billion in tax revenue from hotel operations last year, according to the hotel and lodging association.

The convention and visitors commission collected $197,077 in revenue in 2020, down from a yearly average of $250,000, according to a financial report. The money funds grants to promote local tourism.

Innkeeper’s tax figures improved at the end of last year as some hotel operators paid several months of collections at once.

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