Columbus’ sports tourism success result of strong collaboration

The Columbus Area Visitors Center recently shared some welcome and eye-popping statistics about local tourism last year:

Attendance at tourist-oriented special events grew 56 percent from 2015

The 146,932 sports-related visitors represented a 46 percent increase from the prior year

Sports tourists also spent about $10 million in Bartholomew County in 2016, up from $8.8 million the year before. The Columbus Area Visitors Center also said it estimated the economic ripple effect — including a dollar spent at one business being spent elsewhere — at $16 million.

That’s a huge impact locally, and a great benefit for local businesses.

Strong community collaboration makes tourism — particularly sports — a big economic driver locally.

What’s remarkable is that sports tourism was basically an afterthought even though the 1990s, as Columbus didn’t begin a recruiting push for sports tourism until 2003.

How times have changed.

Last year the city hosted 90 events — 13 more than 2015. Sports events the city hosts now runs the gamut: softball, baseball, golf, soccer, swimming and rugby, for example.

The success of sports tourism in particular is the result of local organizations — visitors center, government, parks department and many volunteers — pitching in to make the community and its facilities as attractive as possible to organizations seeking a place to conduct their sports tournaments.

Success also has been achieved by forging strong relationships that give organizations confidence in having Columbus host their events. A good example is the city’s relationship with the United States Specialty Sports Association, the world’s largest multi-sports association for amateur sports.

City resident Tim Foster has worked with USSSA for 23 years, and is a five-state regional director. The organization brings 17 events to Columbus annually.

Now USSSA is going a step further. It plans to locate its state headquarters in the city, near Clifty Park. The added bonus is that USSSA also will establish an indoor training facility, which will allow softball and baseball players to practice locally during cold-weather months instead of traveling to other areas to do so.

The data shows that Columbus tourism efforts are reaping significant dividends, which is worth celebrating.

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