CLEVELAND — Destination Cleveland officials held their annual meeting Tuesday to recap some notable numbers from the previous year, while looking ahead to its future as the travel industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Destination Cleveland’s work for most of 2020 focused on organization and industry survival as the impact of the global pandemic was sudden and prolonged,” said president and CEO David Gilbert. “What we accomplished – as a much smaller team than pre-COVID – to contribute to the industry’s rebound and recovery is a testament to the team’s commitment to the community and reflects our belief in collaboration. Now, we’re laser-focused on getting back to the foundation of our work: growing the number of visitors – all of whom bring new dollars into our community, generate tax revenue, and contribute to creating jobs for Clevelanders. Returning the industry to its growth status opens the door for community progress.”
Destination Cleveland says that 2020 was shaping up to be the year the region would see 20 million visitors and a tenth consecutive year of growth. That all changed when the pandemic began in March.
For 2020, Cuyahoga County registered 13.8 million visits, which was down 30% from 2019. The economic impact of tourism slid to $7.1 billion, a 27% drop. Both declines resulted from the immediate shutdown and prolonged contraction of the travel industry. Visitation to Cuyahoga County declined at a similar rate to U.S. domestic visitation, according to Destination Cleveland.
“The 2020 figures – while a setback – reflect the nosedive that most destinations experienced because of the pandemic. We are confident we’ll get back to growing at record-setting rates – with a return to 2019 visitor levels expected no earlier than 2024. We know we need to continue to grow at greater rates to gain more market share than our peers and recover faster than predicted," said Jon Pinney, chair of the Destination Cleveland Board of Directors.
Gilbert laid out the organization's vision for the future during his remarks, including the Destination Cleveland Racial Equity & Inclusion Roadmap. The plan seeks to make diversity, equity and inclusion part of how to advance tourism and Cleveland’s reputation as a destination city.
Destination Cleveland will also look to evolve the Cleveland visitor brand as Gilbert pointed to statistics that show that consideration for the city as a destination is up. He also said Destination Cleveland would take a role in trying to help attract workforce talent from other markets.
"We have research that shows that visitors to Cleveland are 32% more likely to consider a move to Cleveland than those who have not visited before. By proactively collaborating with community peers, we can get visitors to consider Cleveland as a place to live and work. Doing so is part of our organization’s long-term vision of harnessing the power of the visitor to amplify the impact of work," Gilbert noted.
The incremental changes to the brand will reinforce Cleveland’s current strengths, identify new ones and optimize messaging, targeting and imagery to improve perceptions, build consideration, and drive conversion to becoming a visitor and, ultimately, a resident. The evolved brand is expected to launch in the first half of 2022.
This news comes as Congress inches closer to passing the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would allow for another infusion of funds into the city and Cuyahoga County, as well as cities all across the United States.
"I'm very excited about the prospects of it going through," said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.
The bill, if passed, would give states the federal funds necessary to rebuild roads, increase access to wireless broadband, and more public works projects.
"It provides funding for many projects that we looked at and planned for," Budish said. "We needed additional funds, and this is additional funds"
The House could move to pass the bill as soon as August 23.
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