Cincinnati to host first convention since start of pandemic

Cincinnati to host first convention since start of pandemic
Cincinnati will host 100 airline executives next week in the city's first convention since the beginning of the pandemic. (Source: Duke Energy Convention Center/Provided)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The Queen City is hosting its first convention since the start of the pandemic.

Around 100 representatives from the major airline companies will be meeting in Cincinnati this week to figure out what the industry will look like next year.

It’s a bright spot for the industries, intertwined as they are, while they prepare for a future that might be a bit more normal than the present. But there’s still a long way to go, and the pandemic’s toll has been high for both.

“It’s been devastating in terms of convention business for the city,” Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Julie Calvert said. “You know, we’ve lost nearly $95 million in convention business since the month of March and have not hosted meetings since the end of February.”

But the airline convention is a welcome sight for Calvert as well as CVG CEO Candice McGraw.

“I’ll tell you, this is the first gathering in Cincinnati since the pandemic,” McGraw said. “This is the first in-person airline industry event in the U.S. since the pandemic, and I think it was important for us to say, ‘You can travel safely, you can gather safely,’ right?”

While McGraw and the airline business try to forecast what 2021 has in store for them, Calvert hopes businesses are willing to begin meeting again — and not just over Zoom.

“That’s what we’re here to learn about this week,” Calvert said. “And you know, what is the outlook like for travel and tourism and for airport travel in general? And I think that while this is a bright spot of optimism, I think we still got a while to go before we’re really back in business in terms of full convention business.”

Southwest Airlines Executive Andrew Watterson will be on hand for the convention, but even he admits he has not traveled much in recent months.

“This is the first conference that we know of,” Watterson said. “So it’s a very good training wheels for us to see, can you restart conferences with appropriate protections? And it looks like you can.”

Watterson continued: My travel was not very much in March and April. But since then, I go out in the field, meet customers, meet employees and, you know, it really feels safe."

Calvert says the city has around five more conventions on the books for the rest of this year — that is, five that have not canceled yet.

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