Destination: Columbus

Columbus hosts more than 7 million overnight visitors each year.

Surprised? Paul Astleford, president of the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCCVB), says you shouldn’t be.

“I think people that visit the city see more of it than the residents,” says Astleford. “As a destination product, we are actually quite rich.”

Visitors spend more money shopping than on any other activity. And Astleford says the availability of many well-known stores is one of Columbus’ greatest strengths.

He also cites COSI and the city’s cultural attractions as reasons companies and organizations are visiting.

“In addition to one of the greatest science museums — COSI — we also have a zoo that has received national acclaim, theatres such as The Palace and the Ohio Theatre and the Columbus Symphony,” he says.

Columbus is considered a second-tier city, which means it doesn’t usually compete on a national level, but Astleford says thanks to great restaurants and sports teams, it’s getting noticed by more potential visitors.

“We compete pretty well,” he says. “We beat out St. Louis for the Frozen Four hockey tournaments. Amateur athletics is one of our strengths.”

Columbus draws mostly regional conventions and trade shows, and it would take additional full-service hotel rooms to bring in national crowds. But with the support of Mayor Michael Coleman and other community leaders, Columbus may soon have what it takes to open itself to new markets.

“I think everyone in the community is in favor of spreading our marketing arms,” Astleford says. “We are doing some consensus building on what it takes to compete on a national level. Adding some vitality and energy to the downtown, making Columbus attractive to visitors, is part of Mayor Coleman’s plan. And it makes the city a place where people want to live.”

While Astleford doesn’t predict Columbus will move into the tier one category, he does anticipate a change.

“I think we will create a new tier that is yet to be defined,” he says. “That is our goal as a community — to create connectivity so that no matter where you go in the city, you’ll have a unique experience.” How to reach: Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, (614) 221-6623 or