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In 'challenging year,' St. Louis sees convention activity pick up more than in other cities

"It's a very challenging year for everybody, so we're no different in that regard, but we have had some greater success in hosting large events"
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — Meeting activity is still greatly depressed in St. Louis, but the area is now seeing more bookings than the industry as a whole.

"It's a very challenging year for everybody, so we're no different in that regard, but we have had some greater success in hosting large events than many other cities around the country," said Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, the tourism agency that operates the downtown convention facility known as America's Center. "We worked really hard to push these numbers, got creative and didn't accept defeat."

The organization, also known as the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, projects that it will count 131,251 contracted hotel room nights this year, or 42% of the average annual total from 2013 to 2016. It also projects 286,419 attendees this year, or 46% of the average. Local hotel bookings have also seen some recovery.

Business of less than half the average may seem poor, but it's indicative of what's happened to an industry decimated by the pandemic. And it's favorable compared with one estimate of the national average.

Tourism Economics, a consulting company, predicts group demand across the U.S. will index at 39.9% this year, compared with 2019 levels. It won't completely recover, the Philadelphia company said, until 2024.

Ratcliffe said Explore worked diligently with its customers, plus city officials, to ensure events like Capitol Sports' youth volleyball tournaments, which took place in February and March, could move forward. Other large events have included those for gymnastics, followed by the Presbyterian Church in America. From July 1 to the end of the year, Explore expects 15 America's Center events, including a stock car race in December. 

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