Pandemic ravages Indy trade shows, tourism

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The cancellation of conventions, conferences and trade shows due to the coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on tourism in Indianapolis, a tourism official said.

Indianapolis attracted a record-breaking 30 million visitors last year, according to Chris Gahl, the senior vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Indy. Gahl said his nonprofit, which promotes Indianapolis, is doing its best to salvage the 2020 events that have been called off.

“We are working with a sense of urgency, alongside the Indiana Convention Center and our hotel partners, to move as many of these conventions from cancellations to postponements,” he told The Indianapolis Star.

Typically around 70% of Indianapolis hotel rooms are occupied but hotels are currently at around 7% occupancy. More than 80,000 residents depend on tourism for a paycheck, according to Visit Indy statistics, which show that visitors spend $5.6 billion in Indianapolis and generate $725 million in state and local taxes.

“They’re hurting,” Gahl said of workers who cater to out-of-town visitors at restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other businesses. “They’re aching. We have virtually no tourists arriving into Indianapolis.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 17 extended Indiana’s stay-at-home order to May 1. He has said he hopes to reopen parts of Indiana’s economy starting in May, though organizers of conventions, sporting events, concerts and other events that attract large crowds may have to wait longer.

Nevertheless, some event organizers are clinging to the hope that events planned for July will go ahead, and are considering the viability of checking the temperature of visitors and taking other health-related measures.

M-Pact is a trade show for gas stations and convenience stores that usually attracts around 4,000 attendees from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky. It had been planned for March 24-26 at the Indiana Convention Center, but was postponed to July 22-24. Scot Imus, executive director of the Indiana Food & Fuel Association and one of the show’s organizers, said those target dates are subject to change if social distancing restrictions extend beyond the summer.

“If there’s still a stay-at-home order, then we probably will be canceled for the year,” he said.

More on