Columbus Becomes a Military Magnet

Dave Ghose and Chloe Teasley
National Veterans Memorial and Museum

Columbus boosters may have a winning ticket in the military convention sweepstakes. With the much-anticipated National Veterans Memorial and Museum set to open this fall, Columbus travel officials will have a one-of-a-kind asset to appeal to veterans groups looking for a place to hold their annual conventions.

Veterans enjoy connecting through conventions, reunions and other gatherings, and preliminary research from Experience Columbus—the city's visitors and convention bureau—has uncovered more than 100 such annual meetings. “And there are probably many, many more,” says Guy Worley, CEO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., the developer of the NVMM. If Columbus can tap this market, it could be a significant new convention revenue stream for the city. “[Experience Columbus sales staff] have reached out to numerous veterans organizations and shared with them that we're building this National Veterans Memorial and Museum and why not have your convention in Columbus, Ohio?” Worley says. “We've got a 2-million-square-foot convention center, which was just recently expanded. And Columbus is centrally located. We have a lot of cultural amenities to offer. This would be a great place to hold that annual meeting.”

Those initial contacts are already bearing fruit. Both the AMVETs Department of Ohio and the Disabled American Veterans will come to Columbus this fall, while the National Guard Association of the United States has signed on for 2022, says Megumi Robinson, director of public relations for Experience Columbus.

Brian Ross, CEO of Experience Columbus, says his organization has worked with many of these groups before, but the $75 million, 53,000-square-foot attraction now moves the city to the “top of the list” thanks to its unique status as the home of the first federally-designated museum honoring the veteran experience (rather than a conflict). “We have always been in touch with [veterans groups], but now we have something that no other community has,” Ross says.

Experience Columbus representatives will attend four trade shows in the next few months to pitch group travel planners who specialize in military reunions and conventions. The organization also has budgeted money to bring military group leaders to Columbus to show off the new museum, which is aiming to open by early November, along with the city's other amenities. “We want to get them in here to get their feet on the ground and experience our community and then see [the NVMM] firsthand, because just talking about it will not do it justice,” Ross says.