CLEVELAND, Ohio — For more than a year, Cleveland hotels have sat nearly empty, sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic. All of a sudden, next month, they’ll be full again – and in the national spotlight, as Cleveland welcomes thousands of football fans for the NFL Draft.
“It isn’t without challenge to get ready to go from zero to 60, when we’ve been a year without much business at all,” said Matt Watson, general manager at downtown Cleveland’s Metropolitan at the 9 hotel. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that the city will be up for the task.”
Indeed, tourism officials, local hotel managers, restaurateurs and others are thrilled to face the pressure of hosting a major international event, even as the pandemic continues. The draft represents a coming-out party, of sorts, designed to show the world that Cleveland is ready to be a gracious, responsible host again.
The National Football League on Monday revealed some key details about the event, which will be held April 29 through May 1 on lakefront land in and around FirstEnergy Stadium, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center.
Still unclear: How many fans will be allowed to attend and what restrictions will be in place for those who come.
Despite the uncertainty, tourism experts say there is little doubt that the event will be a significant draw both regionally and nationally.
“We’ve gone a year without large special events,” said Amir Eylon, president and CEO of Longwoods International, a travel research firm based in Columbus. “I think there will be great interest.”
For the first time in nearly a year, a majority of Americans now feel safe traveling outside their community, according to a recent Longwoods survey. The same survey found that Americans are increasingly comfortable opening up their cities to visitors.
“I think the prospects for a good turnout are high,” he said, citing recent enthusiasm for both the Super Bowl and NBA All-Star Game.
Super Bowl festivities last month attracted more than 280,000 participants to official NFL activities in Tampa, including just under 25,000 to the game and 244,000 to the Super Bowl Experience, an interactive festival along the Tampa Riverwalk.
Thousands of visitors even showed up for the NBA All-Star game in Atlanta earlier this month, even though fans were mostly excluded from the event.