[caption id="attachment_188241" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] With new hotels joining Wilmington before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greater Wilmington Convention and & Visitor Bureau are seeing conventions and meetings return back and fuel room bookings. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
WILMINGTON — With business travel still slow, the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau has seen conventions and sports tourism return strong in the last year.The GWCVB Operational Highlights reportfor Fiscal Year 2023 highlights a $4.3 million in estimated economic impact for all room nights booked with the organization’s support. Measured by data points like average daily room rate, estimated food and beverage spend, the estimated economic impact is an industry-wide standard for 250 destinations across the globe.Compared to the previous fiscal year, that reflects a $3.25 million increase in economic impact to the Greater Wilmington region. For the year ending on June 30, 2023, the GWCVB helped book 51 groups for meetings and conventions for a total of 16,284 nights. Though that number does not reflect all the meetings and conventions that came to Wilmington or New Castle County, it does serve as a snapshot of how the tourism sector is bouncing back.“With the opening of the Homewood Suites and the Hyatt Place just before COVID hit, we now have three hotel properties at the Riverfront. That makes it possible for small to medium-sized conventions to locate all their attendees in one place,” GWCVB Executive Director Jen Boes said. “I think that has made us much more attractive to this market segment given all there is to do within an easy walk of the hotels and the Chase Center.”The rebound may have been hard to see at the time because the COVID-19 pandemic slowed business and meeting travel down, she added. Once conventions and meeting planners started scheduling ahead, larger bookings started to fill hotels again.Three major events have already been booked for this spring: National Extension and Research Administrative Officers, the National High School Mock Trial Competition and the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Two are on track for the largest conventions GWCVB has been involved with.Breaking down the market segments, there were 29 group bookings for corporate meetings, 28 for association and 11 for sports. The top event booking through the GWCVB over the past two years was the East Coast Softball showcase and tournaments at 1,908 room nights. The Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Conference, which was held in Wilmington’s Chase Fieldhouse last March, drew 1,336 room nights.“Sports tournaments have thrived and grown — even through COVID — contributing significantly to the growth of this sector,” Boes told the Delaware Business Times. But what is still lagging is business travel, and that has continued to impact hotels and the tourism economy during the week. The Delaware Hotel and Lodging Association (DHLA) shows the state’s hotel occupancy rates have held firm in 2023, matching the numbers from the previous year. But Bill Sullivan, who serves on the DHLA board, said the data from the previous four years show how much the COVID-19 impact hurt the hotel business.“Overall, state [hotel] occupancy is still down from 2019, when it was 60.3%, to 2023 where it’s at 57%. Sussex had the strongest rebound as team demand swelled but softened a bit in 2023,” Sullivan told DBT. “Kent and New Castle County are still seeing drop primarily with slower recovery of the business travel market and special events in Kent.”Looking to the new year, Boes said her office is looking to spotlight the Brandywine Valley more through a future PBS travel documentary, “Travels with Darley.” Two years back, Darley Newman shot a segment on the greater Wilmington region which aired on the network and 12 streaming services in 2023. This time, Newman will highlight the region for “Revolutionary Road Trips” to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States.The GWCVB is also focusing on a food social media influencer campaign to help raise up the Delaware dining scene in neighboring markets this spring. Early details have that this would include bringing in six top influencers to film content.This year will also bring the Brandywine Treasure Trail Passportback, boosted by an advertising campaign for sales, and Boes is said the organization is looking to create a family-oriented package in the near future. Boes also said that the visitor bureau is planning to bring an artificial intelligence expert to talk about how it can transform their business.Finally, Boes said that GWCVB will embark on a strategic plan to guide the organization’s path in the years to come.“We have involved our team, our board, and other tourism stakeholders from around New Castle County. We plan to complete the plan by late winter of this year,” she said.
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