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Cleveland tourism officials planning pandemic rebound, focusing on positioning the city as a place to live and work

Wade Lagoon in front of Cleveland Museum of Art
Posted at 8:13 AM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 08:13:01-04

CLEVELAND — Destination Cleveland, Cleveland’s destination marketing and management organization, released 2020 visitation metrics, how the pandemic impacted tourism in Cleveland and outlined priorities to rebound from the pandemic and attract more tourism and young people to live and work in Cleveland.

CEO and president David Gilbert shared ideas to rebuild growth in the local tourism industry after it was rocked by a global 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 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 said it shifted priorities in response to the pandemic’s impact on travel. Visitation was down in 2020 compared to 2019. Cuyahoga County registered 13.8 million visit, down 30% from 2019. The economic impact dropped to $7.1 billion, a 27% drop, Destination Cleveland reported.

“The 2020 figures – while a setback – reflect the nosedive that most destinations experienced because of the pandemic,” said Jon Pinney, chair of Destination Cleveland’s Board of Directors. “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.”

Designation Cleveland highlighted some achievements in 2020 in its annual report, which included:

  • Rebooking 102 meetings/conventions to future years at the Huntington Convention Center and surrounding hotels, representing 123,045 room nights.
  • Launched the Eat & Explore CLE program to drive traffic to impacted businesses downtown in Cleveland neighborhoods during the winter months.
  • Helped manage the application process for $10,000 restaurant stabilization grants.

Priorities for 2021-2022

Gilbert said Destination Cleveland is applying what was learned during the pandemic and reexamining its priorities and work, focusing on serving hospitality, travels and tourism businesses as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The organization said it aims to position Cleveland not only as a visitor destination, but as a place to live, work and invest.

“Through all that our industry and community faced, Clevelanders endured showed their compassion and resilience and illustrated creativity in ways that were unexpected given the circumstances. How do we slingshot beyond the impacts on our industry and start rebuilding our businesses and the industry’s metrics?”

Other goals include making diversity, equity and inclusion part of how it operates to advance tourism and Cleveland’s reputation.

“The call to dismantle systemic and structural racism sparked a deep commitment to evaluate how Destination Cleveland as an organization and each team member could do better and do more with greater intention,” said Gilbert. “After taking inventory of our efforts, we determined we could build on what was already being done by convening a Racial Equity & Inclusion Board Task Force, co-chaired by board members Michael Jeans and India Pierce Lee, to develop a set of actions to be undertaken by Destination Cleveland in the performance of its mission.”

Earlier in the year, the task force hosted six sessions with 65 individuals representing 46 organizations to understand the challenges faced by businesses owned by people of color in the community and the Black and Latino residents’ perceptions of how Destination Cleveland promotes the city.

Gilbert said Destination Cleveland will continue to work to change perceptions of the region as a place to live and work.

"We will get our visitor engine humming again, and it will continue to be a growth engine for this community,” stated Gilbert. “Just as before COVID, our best frontier is to leverage the strength of our vibrant and growing visitor economy for the long-term health of our region. 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.

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