Tourism hits record numbers as word spreads about Cleveland

The word is out that Cleveland is a cool place to visit. According to Destination Cleveland's 2014 Convention and Leisure Tourism Metrics Report, Cleveland hit a five-year high in the number of visitors to the city, with 16.9 million visitors last year.

That number represents a 4.5 percent increase over 2013, which counted 16.2 million visitors coming to Cleveland. In 2010 there were 14 million visitors. The report is based on a combination of industry statistics and the convention and Destination Cleveland’s performance metrics.

“We’re really excited about it,” says Jennifer Kramer, Destination Cleveland’s communications manager. “The numbers continue to go up. As Cleveland is starting to revitalize, we’ve piqued people’s interest and they’re giving a second look at Cleveland.”

The record numbers show a change in attitude about Cleveland, especially among Millennials and arts and culture enthusiasts. “There’s an increasingly positive feeling about Cleveland but it wasn’t always that way,” says Kramer. ““Some folks think of Cleveland in the old days and they can't get past some things. But this has really helped drive visitors to the market and get everyone interested in visiting. The campaign has been successful in changing that attitude.”

Kramer says the increase in tourism is in part because of the investment in downtown. “There’s been $3 billion in visitor-related infrastructure,” she says. “We attribute the increase in numbers to the development going on in downtown Cleveland over the last five years.”

The report also shows that Destination Cleveland’s marketing and media efforts have paid off. The #ThisisCLE social media campaign that encouraged locals to share photos and stories about Cleveland, brought a 21 percent increase over 2013 in new page views of Destination Cleveland’s website.

“It has given us an opportunity to share what we see from a local perspective,” explains Kramer. Fifty four percent of residents who participated said they would recommend Cleveland as a destination, up from 34 percent.

Furthermore, travel and leisure writers have taken an interest in the city. Cleveland has made it on various top cities lists among travel writers, including the New York Times 52 Places to Go in 2015 and Travel and Leisure Best Places to Travel in 2015. “We’ve become one of the must-see places,” says Kramer. “When you start to see Cleveland on the same playing field as places like Las Vegas or Italy, we’re very fortunate.”

Kramer admits that the upcoming Republican National Convention and the Cavaliers in the NBA finals boosted interest in Cleveland. But the recent completion of the Cleveland Convention Center and the increase in downtown hotels has increased the city’s capacity to host both conventioneers and tourists.

And things seem to only be getting better. “Our plan is to build on this momentum,” says Kramer. “The Republican National Convention is a huge deal, but it’s a launchpad for more. We know we will continue to welcome this market as we get the word out.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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.