Visit Indy launches task force to brainstorm ideas for the recovery of Indy’s tourism sector

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INDIANAPOLIS — Mayor Joe Hogsett was one of more than 700 people on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon to discuss the outlook of the city’s tourism future, and what can be done to improve recovery.

The call was headed by Visit Indy and included speakers from various tourism sectors.

“Hospitality in Indianapolis is our way of life,” said Hogsett, “I know that Indy will continue to flourish.”

Unfortunately, the situation looks bleak for parts of the tourism industry. So far, 70% of hotel employees nationwide have been laid off or furloughed. Visit Indy estimates 175,000 group hotel bookings for conventions or events have been canceled.

“We are trying to reschedule those groups whenever possible. In some cases, we just can’t figure out how to get them in dates,” said Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy. “There’s other concerns from some customers who just don’t feel that until you get that effective treatment, or vaccine, or herd immunity, that their event will be unviable.”

In Indiana, 66% of restaurants have been closed, and another 2% are telling the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association (InRLA) that they will be permanently closing.

On Wednesday, the restaurant chain Stacked Pickle, owned by former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, closed for good.

“Existing federal relief measures are not going to do a darned thing for the restaurant industry, for the hotel industry in terms of loss,” said Patrick Tamm with InRLA, adding that current Payback Protection Program (PPP) loan limits cover less than one month of average hotel operating costs. “If we are asked or told to close again, no one will survive from a financial perspective.”

Many industries were expecting big numbers in 2020, including the arts community. The Indy Arts Council expects outdoor art spaces like Newfields to open first, but they acknowledge the difficulty of social distancing in the performing arts. That includes the audience as well as the performers who work in close proximity on stage. The impact to the arts sector has been greater than what they first imagined.

“Originally we estimated just over 1,000 closures and cancellations in March. That’s where we started. Our latest research tells us that we’ve actually experience 3,000 cancellations and closures in March, and that number is expected to grow to 20,000 by the end of June, and by 30,000 to the end of September,” explained Julie Goodman with the Indy Arts Council.

Without big sporting events or conventions, the aviation industry has come to a near standstill. The Indianapolis Airport is currently operating at 5% to 7% of its normal traffic. The Airport Authority says projections show they will be at 55% of normal traffic in 2020, and 80% of normal traffic in 2021.

Those comparisons are to what numbers looked like in a coronavirus free 2019. Non-stop flight destination options in Indy recently hit an all-time high, but the Airport Authority believes those options will cut down moving forward. They still believe their industry has a bright future.

“Aviation comes out of these things stronger than it was before,” says Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Airport Authority. “After 9/11 our industry is in much better shape security wise than it has ever been.”

Last week, Visit Indy launched their Indy Tourism Recovery Task Force. They expect it to remain in operation any where from 2-18 months depending on the course of the virus.

They are working toward ideas to help maximize Indy’s potential moving forward. Ideas range from health-based marketing campaigns to mandatory masks at all conventions to thermal scanners at the airport.

“It’s an opportunity for us to take all that we’ve learned, and our DNA, and really move forward,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles. “We are going to have to retrain how we interact, so [tourists] not only feel special, but they feel safe.”

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