Summer and eased restrictions fuel surge in travel, event bookings

Jun. 12—Pent-up demand for travel, meetings, conferences, and special events like weddings and social gatherings is on the verge of exploding with the June 2 lifting of nearly all of Ohio’s coronavirus regulations, including the state requirement of face coverings inside public buildings.

“We’ve started getting face-to-face meetings. It feels kind of good to get back to normal,” said Lance Woodworth, president and chief executive of Destination Toledo, Lucas County’s convention and tourism bureau.

“It’s the little things that you took for granted that are most gratifying, the handshake, the face-to-face greetings. Now you realize just how important that is,” he added.

According to a May 20-22 survey by the Ohio Travel Association, a nonprofit organization that supports the state travel economy, the expected number of leisure trips over the next three months stands at three per person, with small towns and rural places the most likely destination for state travelers.

But 40 percent of those surveyed said they anticipate taking a trip to an Ohio city over the next three months. The average spending on trips during the three months will be $1,810, up from an average of $1,691 reported just a week earlier.

“The pendulum definitely is starting to swing the other way. The travel is there. The pent-up demand is exploding with leisure travel leading the way,” Mr. Woodworth said. “The number of people coming to town for our attractions is growing.”

Northwest Ohio isn’t the only locale where pent-up travel demand is surging.

The Petoskey News-Review recently reported that hotels and resorts in northern Michigan, particularly in the Traverse Bay area, are heavily booked for the summer.

One venue reported it was completely booked for the rest of this summer with wedding reservations, while another had just a select number of weekends available for July and September, 2022. Meanwhile, Stafford’s Hospitality, which owns several dining and lodging properties in the Petoskey area, reported seeing a normal summer in terms of wedding scheduling, but that guest counts tended to be smaller than pre-pandemic bookings.

“We’re seeing events now in the 80-140 or 150 range, where before it was common to have 150 to 200 people, at least for our particular venue here,” Reg Smith, chairman of the Stafford’s board, told the News-Review.

Mr. Woodworth said Toledo-area hotels are starting to fill up for weeks and weekends that feature special events, like Toledo Jeep Fest the weekend of Aug. 6, and the Solheim Cup team tournament Aug. 31 through Sept. 6 at Inverness Club golf course.

“That demand is coming full force. We see hotels at real high occupancy on those weekends in northwest Ohio,” Mr. Woodworth said.

He said such demand is very good news because the eight counties along Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline account for a third of all visitor spending in the state.

But Mr. Woodworth added that weekday bookings at hotels are lagging, likely because of lingering caution by companies and business travelers still concerned about the coronavirus.

“There’s some businesses that still haven’t given the all-clear sign to travel. The employees, they’re ready to travel. They’re just waiting for the OK to travel by their companies,” Mr. Woodworth said.

Erica Owens, event manager at the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel, said part of the problem may be that many companies were conservative in their estimates as to when it would be safe to travel, and did not budget for employee travel this summer.

“When it comes to [corporate] meetings that are booked, those are a little further out and smaller,” Ms. Owens said.

However, the Renaissance is seeing a resurgence in demand by private individuals or groups for its ballroom and smaller meeting spaces.

“We are booked through this summer with weddings,” Ms. Owens said, and the hotel also is booked up during the Solheim Cup.

Maumee Bay State Park Lodge and Conference Center also is feeling a surge in pent-up demand by travelers.

“We’re booked. It seems like everybody wants to travel now. We are very busy,” said Kim Mohney, a sales assistant at the lodge. “We’re booking for next summer already.”

Ms. Mohney said much of the event and room bookings are for weddings and wedding parties first scheduled for 2020 but postponed because of the pandemic.

“If you want to book something here, during the week would be your best bet. Weekends would be pretty difficult through the summer,” she said. “Our cabins are all booked through the summer. Maybe you can find a room in midweek. But we have family reunions coming in now and many corporate groups are wanting to come.”

Steve Miller, general manager for the Huntington Center and the Glass City Convention and Event Center, formerly the SeaGate Convention Centre, said the city’s convention-center bookings are starting to pick up, mainly with some small bookings while facility renovations continue.

‘We have a dance competition and a cheerleading competition coming in,” Mr. Miller said. “…Unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses postponed their convention here to 2022. But we did pick up a really large competition from Michigan — about 3,500 people that will take place the second week of July.”

Mr. Miller said conventions typically book out months and years in advance, so it’s understandable that it won’t be back to normal this summer.

“It’s going to be really strong in the third quarter and fourth quarter, we believe,” Mr. Miller said.

Convention center sales representatives are already talking to groups about bookings for August, 2022, when the center will be able to offer its new ballroom that can accommodate 1,000 people.

“We’re working with Lance’s team and we’re actively selling as well,” Mr. Miller said. “We have one more summer to catch up and then we’re going to crank up everything in 2022.”

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