PCMA Convening Leaders Takes Over Columbus, Ohio

Skift Take

Over 3,300 meeting professionals descended upon Columbus, Ohio, this week for PCMA Convening Leaders injecting about $6 million into the economy. The pressure was on as these planners could bring hundreds of millions of dollars in future meetings business to the city.

Over 3,300 meeting professionals descended upon Columbus, Ohio, one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest, this week for PCMA Convening Leaders.

“Columbus has not been viewed as a desired and preferred meetings destination,” said Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus, the destination marketing organization for Ohio’s capital city. “We have not had the profile raised to the level it is now. PCMA made people aware they can have successful conventions here.”

In an expansive, first-tier city, a group like PCMA would be just another convention in town. But, in Columbus, Ohio’s capital city, it was the group in town. Attendees said no matter where they went, they felt welcome.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

Columbus renamed Nationwide Blvd., one of the center city’s main thoroughfares, to PCMA Way in honor the conference, and the city’s famed arches lit up in PCMA colors.

Ross’ team made an expansive effort to ensure everyone from restauranteurs, shop owners, and Uber drivers understood the importance of this group. “We estimate PCMA’s direct visitor spend at about $6 million with hundreds of millions of potential businesses to come as a result of the gathering,” said Ross.

For those who flew into John Glenn Columbus International Airport, live music, local snacks, and drinks welcomed them. Attendees could pick up their badges before leaving the baggage claim.

Many commented on how vibrant the downtown area was, with restaurants, art galleries, lounges, and cafes a short walk away. Across the street from the convention center sits the North Market, Columbus’ 145-year-old public market brimming with stalls serving everything from Indian to Mediterranean food.

Music and fashion were also part of the conference. It was fitting, as this is the city where retailers like DSW and Abercrombie & Fitch are based. A highlight for many was a performance by Ohio native John Legend, an award-winning musician who performed at Nationwide Arena.

Experience Columbus also tapped into local figures innovating in their respective fields during the conference. Coyote Peterson, the founder of Brave Wilderness, was on hand to shared stories of his adventures, including being bitten or stung by around 50 creatures. In addition, local accessible design and DEI expert Rosemarie Rossetti, who is in a wheelchair, led a tour of the convention center, highlighting areas where the venue has worked to accommodate people with disabilities. 

Destination Updates

Hilton Columbus Downtown has a new tower built with groups in mind. With 1,000 guestrooms now available, Hilton Columbus Downtown is the largest hotel in Ohio. Connected to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the hotel has more than 75,000 square feet of meeting space and four new restaurants.

Many unique venues for special events, including the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, pays tribute to all veterans. Directly adjacent to the museum is a 2.5-acre memorial grove, a 325-foot stone wall featuring three cascades of water, and a reflecting pool. The museum and its rooftop are available for special events, as is the outdoor area. 

The Peninsula, touted as Columbus’ next great neighborhood, will be the site of The Junto, a new 198-room independent lifestyle hotel slated to open in the spring. It will have 11,000 square feet of indoor space, 6,000 square feet of outdoor function space, a restaurant, lounge, coffee shop, rooftop bar, walk-up poutine window, and Gear Garage where guests can rent equipment like paddle boards and kayaks to enjoy on the Scioto River.

Addressing Political Challenges

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, abortion rights in Ohio have been in flux. Ross said the ruling didn’t impact PCMA or any group coming to the progressive city.

“In Columbus, our Mayor Andrew J. Ginther issued a statement immediately following the state’s decision declaring abortions are health care and showed how the perspective of Columbus city leadership on this issue differs from the state and Supreme Court decision,” said Ross. “Columbus has a reputation as a city that is safe and welcoming, and our focus is on providing a superior visitor experience for all travelers to the city. We have not had any groups cancel as a result. Our team responds to any controversial legislative issues by welcoming any group to discuss concerns with our executives.”

At the end of the conference, as attendees descended upon the airport, a team of Experience Columbus volunteers was on hand to thank them for coming and give each a $5 Starbucks gift card in an envelope that said, “Thank you for attending PCMA Convening Leaders!” Have a cup of coffee on us, we hope to see you soon!” How is that for Midwest hospitality?