Hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic, municipal groups are trying to find a way back from lost tourism revenues in the Kanawha Valley.
For Charleston, the virus’ toll on the capital city hasn’t even been put into numbers yet, Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Tim Brady said.
“It’s hard to say what the total toll is, frankly; that’s part of what we’re up against. It’s hard to even put a figure on what’s been lost,” he said by phone Monday.
The girls and boys state high school basketball tournaments are considered the two biggest weeks of tourism for the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, and both were lost to the pandemic, Brady said. Now that a number of future events at the Coliseum have been postponed or canceled, Brady said how soon some of those larger events return is still up in the air.
“It’s all so unknown. We’re not 100% sure how much revenue we’ve lost ... we also don’t know how long it’s going to last. That’s the real trick for us,” he said. “We can put together a rebound plan, and a recovery plan, but when do we start that?”
The Coliseum’s board met Tuesday afternoon, where members discussed the type of events that could be held under current health and safety guidelines.
While concerts or large gatherings may not come back soon, Chairwoman Carrie Fenwick said things like bar exams, small wedding receptions or luncheons could be held on the venue’s grounds with more than enough room to properly social distance.
“To the extent we can book things, we should be,” Fenwick said.
Except for blood drives and a school-related boxed lunch program, the Coliseum has not held events since the state of emergency was implemented in March, Fenwick said.
The Basketball Tournament, a $1 million winner-take-all tournament comprised of college alumni teams and former professional basketball players, was supposed to hold a regional round at the Coliseum in July. The U.S. Youth Soccer Association was also scheduled for a large event at Shawnee Sports Complex this summer.
Based on the existing relationships with the organizations, Brady said bringing those events back will be doable. The Basketball Tournament especially has shown love for the Coliseum and Charleston, he said.
“We developed a great relationship with them, and they told us when things go back to their normal model, that we will be one of their regional host sites next year,” Brady said.
For obscure tournaments like pickleball and quidditch that were scheduled for the Coliseum, Brady said the city has put in the work to get those organizations here, but if those events come back will be dependent on those organizations’ financial situations.
“Tourism is a relationship business ... Something like quidditch — that’s a couple of years working to recruit an event to come to your area, and in that time you do develop those relationships,” Brady said. “We still have the great facilities, we still have the relationships with the organizations ... it’s just a matter of them being able to hold their events again.”
The visitors bureau has halted all advertising, Brady said, because encouraging out-of-state residents to the region is not a good idea for public health. On the flip side, Brady said it’s now up to the community to keep local favorites in business.
“For now, what we can do is we can encourage people locally to support these businesses to help keep them growing through this, so that when tourism resumes, we have a strong tourism economy here in Charleston,” Brady said.