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High interest in architectural tours, one-time events such as the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and recurring sports tournaments pumped more tourism dollars into the local economy in 2012 than ever before.
Tourists spent $241.6 million in Columbus in 2012, up 6.3 percent from 2010, according to a report from Lexington, Ky.-based CERTEC Inc.
The report, commissioned by the Columbus Area Visitors Center, also found that nearly 4,400 people worked in the tourism industry in Bartholomew County last year, up 154, or 3.6 percent, from 2010, the last time the study was done.
The hospitality-related jobs generated wages of $70 million in 2012, up 12.1 percent from 2010.
From restaurant and hotel owners to managers, the hospitality industry also supports many jobs that pay good wages, said Erin Hawkins, the center’s director of marketing. CERTEC said that more than a third of hospitality jobs are in high-wage occupations, including professional and technical, managerial and construction.
The report also indicated that visitor spending generated about $80 million in tax revenues, including $15.9 million locally. That includes the roughly $1.3 million in innkeeper tax revenues that fund the Visitors Center. The 5 percent tax is assessed on any hotel stay in Columbus of less than 30 days. The bulk of the remainder of the local tax impact comes from the sales tax, which supports the operations of local schools.
Since 2008, innkeeper tax revenues dipped only from 2008 to 2009, and last year reached $1.35 million, up 24 percent from 2008.
Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus Visitors Center, said tourism spending has increased because of increased interest in local architectural tours but also because of newer initiatives including sports tourism.
From 2008 to 2010, the city hosted about 50 sports-related events. That rose to 63 in 2011 and 82 last year. Participants travel to Columbus usually with friends and/or family, and they often spend money at local hotels, restaurants and even retailers.
Lucas also said the center’s architectural tour business has improved by about a third since the opening of the historic Miller House for tours three years ago. The center guided visitors on more than 818 public tours last year, up from 341 tours two years earlier. The number of visitors on public tours during that same period jumped from about 5,500 to 12,500.
Lucas said the Visitors Center on many days has a waiting list for the Miller House tour and also for the regular two-hour architectural tour.
Lucas said that thanks to a diverse clientele — architectural enthusiasts, conferences, shoppers, military personnel — the local tourism industry has somewhat inoculated itself from weakness in any one sector.
“We’re very fortunate that we have a number of different markets,” she said.
Lucas said the local hospitality industry also has received a boost from national and international publicity in the past few years, including a segment on the “CBS Sunday Morning Show” in 2011 and an article in the New York Times this year.
At the Visitors Center’s annual meeting at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, keynote speaker Roger Rickard urged the audience of about 100 to continue to toot the city’s horn and to continue to talk about the importance of the visitors to the local economy.
Infrastructure that fosters tourism helps local residents year-round, Rickard said, but local residents often see only that visitors cause parking problems, traffic jams and long lines at local restaurants.
Columbus is a wonderful community, Rickard said. “You’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
At the same time, Rickard warned, the hospitality industry faces numerous challenges, including a lack of infrastructure investment, gridlock in the U.S. Congress and businesses continuing to curb spending on travel and conferences.
On the bright side, he said, some factors, including rising airline costs, mean more people are opting for domestic trips.
The Visitors Center also presented awards at its annual meeting, including the Unforgettable Partner award to former Columbus Parks & Recreation Director Chuck Wilt and The Republic’s Associate Editor Harry McCawley, both of whom received a standing ovation.
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