Locals will witness the power of travel this week, as hotels, restaurants and attractions will bustle this weekend. Guests will pour into the city for the Western Heritage Classic, three university graduation ceremonies and Mother’s Day.
This year’s theme, the Power of Travel, recognizes the industry’s critical role in helping to revive vibrant communities and restore the damaged economy. The travel industry has been a powerful economic engine in Abilene, supporting more than 4,100 jobs and bringing $506 million to local businesses in 2019. Prior to the pandemic, the travel trade nationwide had experienced 107 straight months of growth, generating $2.6 trillion in economic output and delivering a $51 billion trade surplus to the U.S.
That strong growth trend plummeted in 2020. Business and association meetings, sporting events, concerts and festivals were canceled. Leisure travelers stayed home. Travel spending in the U.S. declined 42%, costing the economy $1.1 trillion. Locally, more than 214 events booked or assisted by the ACVB were canceled, an estimated loss of $17 million direct spending to local businesses. We all witnessed the power of travel firsthand -- when it ceased.
Yet, Texans fared better than the rest of the nation, and Abilene fared better than the state.
Preliminary data just released by the Texas Office of the Governor, Economic Development & Tourism show travel spending in our great state declined 31% in 2020, causing a 17.9% dip in employment. In Abilene, travel spending fell 17.7% and employment was down by 14%.
Statewide, travel earnings declined 15% and tax revenue dropped 24%. Abilene earnings lost 10.5% during 2020, while tax revenue collected from travelers declined 11.5%.
The city’s hotels and businesses were supported by traveling medical professionals, military, workers, and others in town to help fight the pandemic. Locals ordered takeout religiously. They bought gift cards to their favorite businesses. They opened their wallets during Abilene Gives and showered non-profits with record-setting generosity. The Taylor County Expo Center kept its lights on and offered students and others a chance at normalcy when agricultural and equestrian events were canceled in other cities.
Abilene is nimble and resilient. The community pulled together and persisted.
At the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau, we are working hard to capitalize on the pent-up demand for leisure travel, meetings, and sporting events. The ACVB team wants to capture new business from bigger cities, where the rebound to normal is a slower process.
Help us celebrate Travel & Tourism Week by joining this effort.
Abilene Gives: Support Abilene’s cultural and heritage venues and attractions. We need them to thrive. These wonderful places add to our quality of life and enrich the guest experience. This week’s Abilene Gives May 4 is an opportunity to support your favorite places and causes. Donate.
Love where you live: Sign up for next week’s Abilene Champions Destination Certification course. This free, half-day class on May 11 will teach customer service skills and give an overview of fun things to do in the city. Hospitality staff and volunteers who attain this certification can better answer questions from out-of-town customers, making the city a hospitable place to visit and encouraging visitors to enjoy local attractions. The course even includes a whirl through downtown to learn local history and see new businesses.
Invite friends and colleagues: If you’re a member of a professional association, civic club or other group that gathers, invite them to Abilene. The CVB will prepare and present a bid to host regional and statewide conventions and meetings. These groups plan years in advance, so we must work hard now to ensure prosperity later. Reach out to Kim@abilenevisitors.com or fill out this request for a proposal.
Join the movement: Support live music and the arts. Abilene’s designation as a Texas Music Friendly Community showcases the city’s commitment as a supportive home for performing artists. Abilene’s restaurants, bars and venue spaces are booking musicians for regular gigs. Check our online community calendar and social media to find live performances throughout the city. Sign up for the ACVB’s weekly newsletter to stay informed about hot happenings.
Play ball: Abilene is a sports town. We grow champions here. The facilities are top-notch, hotel inventory affordable, and the easy-to-navigate city is centrally located. Invite your athletic association or league to host a competition in Abilene. The CVB can prepare a bid and assist with hosting the event. If you don’t have a team but love sports, the ACVB’s Sports Alliance also always looking for fans to volunteer at athletic events, and that’s a great way to contribute to the teamwork. To host an event or volunteer, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, check out the resources on abilenevisitors.com, get out and support the many places that contribute to Abilene’s culture and high quality of life. And when you encounter visitors, show them West Texas hospitality, so they’ll come back for more.