Adjusted daily hotel occupancy rates through August 2020, compared with 2019. Provided by Catch Des Moines

As travel and tourism shut down with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, organizations that promote the community to visitors have had to shift their focus to being a resource for local residents to safely support local businesses and attractions, officials with Catch Des Moines said today.

Instead of marketing the region to visitors, the convention and visitors organization refocused itself. The result? Control what you can control. Support local. Prepare for the future. Get outside.

“The hospitality industry is going to be what drives recovery, and Des Moines’ best attributes – cleanliness, safety, accessibility and affordability – are going to be top of mind when navigating the new normal,” said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of Catch Des Moines.  

According to officials with Catch Des Moines, those traits will be highlighted as part of the agency’s “S’s Are Silent” video series. A new video planned for release later this fall will target meeting and sports planners, highlighting venues in the region, hosting capabilities and hotels. 

The regional travel and tourism economy was hard hit by the pandemic. 

The number of travelers at the Des Moines International Airport in August totaled 94,827, down 62.7% from August 2019, when more than 254,000 people passed through the gates. Year to date, travel at the Des Moines airport is down 54.4%. So far, through August -- the most recent month that data is available -- 901,000 travelers have flown in and out of Des Moines, compared with nearly 1.98 million during the same period in 2019.

Hotel occupancy in the Des Moines area has increased to more than 50%, well above a low of about 20% in April and May, but still well below what pre-COVID levels. Occupancy usually ranges between 60% and 75% during the summer.

According to Catch Des Moines, nearly 14 million visitors generate more than $2 billion in travel spending in the Des Moines area each year, supporting more than 19,000 jobs. But that’s before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

As of Sept. 30, 315 event cancellations and postponements were attributed to COVID-19, resulting in a loss of direct economic impact of more than $284 million, according to data provided by Catch Des Moines.

Catch Des Moines has also shifted its leisure travel focus to the outdoors with a new “The S’s Are Silent-Outdoors” video focused on attractions such as the High Trestle Trail, Gray’s Lake and Jester Park.

A survey by McKinsey shows that 18% of Americans indicate they will be spending more time outdoors.

“We wanted to retain the quirky spirit of the campaign, while being cognizant of the shifting landscape and priorities,” said Ben Handfelt, director of creative and communications with Catch Des Moines. “Hopefully, the videos will make people smile and get them thinking about safe travel.”

The shift in focus is also due to budget restrictions and travel restrictions among states, said Brock Konrad, vice president of marketing for Catch Des Moines.

Konrad said people are typically looking to stay close to home for vacations.

To meet that demand, Catch Des Moines is developing new itineraries to generate ideas of how to explore what Des Moines has to offer, he said.

“So this is our change to re-engage with Iowans who may not have taken a big vacation this year, but still want to go somewhere safe and fun,” Konrad said.