RNC is just the beginning for larger conventions, tourism in CLE

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee held a series of free events over this past weekend as one big thank you party for the volunteers and residents who made the RNC a success two weeks ago.

From the Cleveland Orchestra making its return to the newly-renovated Public Square on Friday night, fireworks and family-oriented activities to a party on Saturday afternoon and free admission all weekend to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Indians’ three-game home series (sweep!) against Oakland, the committee wanted to celebrate the city and its residents’ efforts, says Destination Cleveland’s senior communication manager Jennifer Kramer.
“With an event of this magnitude, it’s all attributed to the people,” Kramer says of the volunteers, business people and residents who contributed to the RNC’s success. “And for the people who weren’t able to come down or stayed away, this was time to take pride in the city and see what we were able to do.”
More than 3,000 volunteers worked 8,400 shifts during the week of the RNC, as hotel and airport greeters and wayfinders at pedestrian-heavy intersections. They made guest feel welcome, pointed them in the right direction and even saw them off at the airport after the RNC.
But while the RNC is probably the largest convention Cleveland will ever host, officials are hoping that it is just the springboard the city needs to launch the convention and tourism industry.
"This is not the end," says Kramer. "It is the beginning of many, many more things to come.”
Kramer says tourism in the area has been on the rise – increasing four to five percent each year over the last five years – and those numbers are expected to continue upward. “The narrative is changing,” she says. “It’s interesting to see people’s perceptions change.”

RNC Thank You Party in Public Square
In fact, feedback was all positive from the 750 guests who came through the Visitors Center, and staff fielded phone calls from potential future visitors who had seen Cleveland highlighted in the convention coverage. “It was great to hear other people say how great the city is,” says Kramer.
Convention business is expected to pick up after a successful RNC as well. “In 2013 we were just coming into the convention world,” says Kramer. “We’ve been able to make sure heads turn, not just from the business perspective but in the leisure perspective too.”
Todd Mesek, the Rock Hall’s vice president of marketing and communications also sees the RNC as just a launching point for the city’s convention and tourism business.
“People close to the RNC said it wasn’t about one week, it was about the long-term,” Mesek explains. “It was about getting people to feel it, experience the city.”
Mesek says high profile events like the RNC, as well as the 2016 Transplant Games, the Gay Games in 2014 and the National Senior Games in 2013, have all been opportunities to show off Cleveland’s assets.
“It’s about showing them what we have and they walk away [as Cleveland] ambassadors,” Mesek says.
The Rock Hall typically gets an average of 2,500 guests a day in July, says Mesek, adding that number jumped to an average of 4,000 people a day during the RNC.
Part of the increase was due to the free admission, sponsored by AT&T, to draw both visitors and locals to the museum.
“We wanted to make it easy for anyone in town for the RNC – media, delegates, protestors – and who didn’t have a lot of time but just wanted to explore it,” he says. “We wanted to make it easy for locals too, although not a lot of locals took advantage of it. But some did.”
July, says Mesek, was all about changing perceptions. “So many people outside of Cleveland either have an old perception or a neutral perception of the city,” he says. “We just have to get them here. We’re confident that after visiting the museum they’re walk away with a positive perception.”
Mesek adds that an increase in tourism to the area means more jobs. “It brings in out of town dollars,” he points out. “They sleep in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and visit our museums. And that creates jobs.” 

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
Signup for Email Alerts