Scott Dahl, director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB), describes Springfield as a convention city and tourism city. There are approximately 3,500 travel and tourism-related jobs in Sangamon County, representing $110 million in total payroll, so COVID-19 has had a huge impact. Hotels are at a record low occupancy; the March occupancy rate was 34.6%, compared to 60.7% in March 2019. April was even worse, since hotels were still open in early March. Hotels in Springfield normally employ approximately 2,000 people but only 500 are currently working. A total of 227 scheduled events have been cancelled, with an economic impact of $22.5 million.
However, Dahl is optimistic that the hospitality industry will rebound. “Tourism will lead the economic recovery in Springfield,” says Dahl. The SCVB, Downtown Springfield Inc., hotel industry, historic sites and attractions, and others are committed to make this happen. The near-term focus is on regional tourism and staycations. For 2021 and beyond, restoration of the convention market is a priority for 2021. Dahl explains that as things begin to reopen, Springfield is well-positioned to attract travelers who may feel more comfortable driving to a destination than getting on an airplane. The wild card will be how willing and able people are to travel, given traveler sentiment coupled with the severe economic hardships facing many families.
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SCVB marketing is targeted at six regional drive markets: Eastern Iowa, Southern Wisconsin to Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Western Kentucky and Paducah, St. Louis and Ohio. Dahl cites Springfield’s affordability, walkability and outstanding historic sites and tourist attractions as major attributes.
Smaller, regional meetings are Springfield’s niche for meetings and events. These range from very small events to conventions with up to 3,000 individuals. A variety of national organizations also find Springfield attractive due to our Lincoln sites and connection to Route 66.