As business travel declines, impact of COVID-19 on Hamilton County tourism remains unclear

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With the spread of the coronavirus leading to unprecedented disruptions throughout the U.S., including a 30-day ban on travel from Europe and suspension of the NBA season, tourism officials in Hamilton County are finding it difficult to predict the impact on local hotels and events.

Myers

Hamilton County Tourism Inc. President and CEO Brenda Myers said industry trends – such as decreased business travel – can often foreshadow economic declines. Although the county is seeing a drop in corporate visitors, Myers isn’t sure what it means for the future of county tourism.

“This one’s different,” Myers said. “I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I don’t want to be an optimist. We are literally waiting and seeing.”

In the past month, Myers said hotel room stays in Hamilton County were down compared to this time last year on weekdays but were up on weekends. She said the trend indicates that corporate travel has decreased while other visitors have kept their plans.

Myers and her staff began checking with hotel operators in the county March 2 to determine how much business has been lost because of the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. As of March 11, the cumulative total stood at 683 rooms, a number Myers didn’t find too concerning because the county has approximately 4,500 rooms available each day.

Myers said she stays in frequent contact with Hamilton County health officials and other tourism industry leaders to continuously assess the situation. She said it’s too early to know the long-term impacts.

“When you have these black swan events, the drop is often rapid and the recovery is often slower,” she said. “That’s not to say this one will be that way, but it will definitely make a difference how long this goes on.”

Amid the concern, there may be a silver lining for local tourism.

“We did better in the Recession because people were not taking more expensive trips. They were taking smaller family trips,” Myers said. “This (situation) is different, so we really don’t know what’s going to happen on the leisure travel side.”

As of March 11, 12 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in Indiana, with two in Hendricks County and one each in Noble, Adams, Howard, Boone, Marion and Johnson counties. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 938 cases and 29 deaths in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

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