INDIANAPOLIS–One of the biggest conventions in the state has canceled the in-person convention. The FFA meeting will instead happen online. That leaves another gaping hole in Indy’s convention business and an economic sting for the city and a huge chunk of the state’s tourism business.
The national FFA organization, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, has extended its contract with the city another two years, committing to hold the annual meeting here through 2033, said Chris Gahl, vice-president of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy.
LISTEN: Visit Indy’s Chris Gahl talks about the FFA cancellation.
“It’s painful, but yet we understand, specifically for a group like National FFA that has taken so much time and energy to grow their convention here in Indianapolis and who is committed to Indianapolis, and who resides here,” said Gahl. “We understand and we want what’s best for National FFA, and if that means pausing for a year, we understand.”
Over 83,000 people depend on tourism for income in the Indy area. Motels and hotels are at about 7 percent occupancy, when they would normally be at 70 percent.
“We wanted to ensure that our members and guests had the full convention experience. After a discussion with the National FFA Board of Directors, the decision was made to move forward with a virtual experience for 2020,” said Mark Poeschl, CEO of National FFA.
“As we continued to plan for our national convention, it became clear that travel restrictions and public health concerns, among many other pandemic-related challenges, made hosting our in-person event impossible in 2020.”
Gahl said the cancellation of the in-person event leaves a huge hole in the city and state’s tourism business. Last year’s event brought 68,000 people, with an impact of $38 million. This year’s convention was expected to bring 70,000 people and add $2 million to that economic impact number.
The FFA event is one of many that have been canceled, moved, or changed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re hopefully optimistic that we can hang on to a handful of groups here slated to meet into the summer, into the fall and into the winter,” said Gahl. “There are many businesses and hotels and tourism-related entities that are aching.”
He said you can expect to hear about a campaign next week to bring people from all over the state to Indianapolis. Some hotels will offer rooms discounted up to 50 percent, still a meager substitution for the millions of people who visit Indy and Indiana each year.