Columbus, Ohio is rapidly gaining momentum as a burgeoning hotspot for both leisure and business travelers. The 2023 State of the Visitor Industry: Mid-year Report, released by Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, highlights the city’s robust tourism performance with 49.6 million trips generating $6.6 billion in revenue and supporting 75,000 jobs.
According to Brian Ross, President & CEO of Experience Columbus, there are four factors that have helped Columbus’ travel economy thrive. “First, Columbus has so much to offer leisure visitors coming to explore our vibrant neighborhoods, visit our top-rated attractions and attend our signature annual events,” he explains. “Strategic public-private development projects such as the Scioto Mile, which brought more than 175 acres of lush parkland to the heart of downtown along the Scioto River, brought new ways for visitors to enjoy our downtown.”
Other contributing factors are the meetings and conventions hosted in Columbus. Business professionals from across the country and world come to Columbus each year. One development project that has helped Columbus attract larger meetings and conventions is the recent expansion of the Hilton Columbus Downtown. The new 28-story tower, which is attached to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, makes it the largest hotel in the state.
Ross adds, “Our sports scene is another reason visitors choose Columbus.” Columbus is home to three professional sports teams – the Columbus Crew (MLS), Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) the Columbus Clippers (AAA) – with stadiums just a few blocks of each other on Nationwide Blvd., nicknamed “Sports St.” in the Arena District.
Finally, Columbus is a business and innovation hub, which also drives tourism. Columbus has strategically attracted an impressive array of businesses, including both global giants and innovative startups. The Columbus region is home to 16 Fortune 1000 companies, representing a diverse group of industries, and five Fortune 500 companies, including Nationwide, AEP and Cardinal Health. Household names like Bath & Body Works, Abercrombie & Fitch, DSW and Express all call Columbus home. A notable recent example is Intel’s decision to invest $20 billion in a chip production facility, which has the potential to transform Ohio into the “Silicon Heartland.” Google also recently announced a second data center in the region.
As the 14th largest city in the U.S., Ohio’s capital and one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest, Columbus features world-class museums like COSI, named the best science museum in the country for four consecutive years by USA Today 10Best, to unique neighborhoods like the Short North Arts District, the historic German Village and the Arena District, where three professional sports teams reside.
Another significant development happening Downtown is The Peninsula, a $250 million project poised to become the next great neighborhood. Phase I is already complete, providing top-tier office spaces, residential units and the city’s first independent lifestyle hotel, The Junto, within The Makeready portfolio. Opening its doors in May 2023, The Junto is the brainchild of Rockbridge, the investment firm behind several award-winning hotels, and Makeready, a hospitality company known for its independent and diverse collection of brands.
The Junto’s design is thoughtfully crafted to enhance the community and the city’s future and boasts a variety of restaurants, bars and accommodations along with 198 creatively designed rooms and suites. Its emphasis on public gathering spaces reflects its commitment to creating a destination that adds value to Columbus and its vibrant neighborhoods.
At the heart of this groundbreaking venture is Jim Merkel, the CEO of Rockbridge and Founder of Makeready, who grew up in Columbus. Merkel’s passion for placemaking and his deep connection to Columbus have converged in The Junto. Having led the creation of luxury hotels in cities like Charleston, Nashville and Dallas, Merkel’s decision to bring The Junto to his hometown is a testament to his belief in Columbus’ potential.
Merkel’s roots run deep in Columbus, and witnessing its evolution has been nothing short of inspiring. “It’s a city that embraces all with open arms, blending the lively energy of a metropolis with the genuine warmth of a close-knit community,” he says. “Having witnessed the transformative impact of our hotels in other markets, I am now presented with the privilege of bringing that same sense of belonging and shared purpose to my hometown. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to help shape a growing dynamic city that I love.”