Big numbers help tell community’s tourism story

The message of Columbus’ architecture, sculptures, sports tournaments and other attractions reached an estimated 20 million people worldwide in the past year — an audience roughly double the size of metro Chicago. And sports tournaments alone generated about $8.9 million in tourism revenue.

Karen Niverson, who became executive director post of the Columbus Area Visitors Center in April, offered those figures among others during Tuesday’s annual meeting of the agency at its downtown office.

Board president Al Degner said he regularly is reminded that sports tourism is about far more than stats, literally and figuratively.

“Guests tell me things like how much their family has enjoyed the best softball tournament their family has ever experienced together,” Degner said.

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In short, visitors center leaders told a gathering of 95 people that Columbus and Bartholomew County remain a big hit with audiences across the globe.

Niverson said after the meeting that she is determined to see that profile grow.

“Tourism here is very broad in its reach and very significant, as well,” Niverson said.

With the help of board vice president Cindy Waddell, the visitors bureau staff reviewed the center’s grants in the past year, awarded for efforts ranging from September’s Seek 2015 healthy aging conference to YES Cinema’s film festival. Amounts ranged from $500 awarded to various groups up to $35,000 to boost the new Landmark Columbus, helping celebrate the city’s design heritage.

Visitors center staffer Joyce Orwin saluted the agency’s top award winners.

Chad Heimlich, who has led a range of tours — bus, the walking excursion and Miller House visits — since 2013, earned the Volunteer of the Year designation. He acknowledged that the Miller House fascinates him most.

“It really is one of a kind,” he said.

He loves his work so much that he travels the country to discover the creations of architects who have worked in Columbus.

Mark Jones, Columbus Parks and Recreation director, earned the award for Unforgettable Partner for his efforts to help land sports tournaments.

“His work is praised by event organizers, and he always goes the extra mile,” Niverson said. “He is the reason so many of the tournaments return year after year.”

Amid all the talk of the area’s wonders, Degner acknowledged that sometimes the local offerings can become invisible amid everyday life.

“Sometimes I take for granted the art, architecture and amazing amenities that surround us,” he said.

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20 million: Estimated annual number of people reached by Columbus’ marketing

130,000: Annual visitors to the Visitors Center’s website

25,000: Annual visitors to Columbus

1,000: Expected number of total architectural tours

Source: 2014 statistics compiled by the Columbus Area Visitors Center