KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After being among the economy's hardest-hit sectors, the hospitality industry looks forward to the day it can welcome people back en masse.
“It’s been a challenging year for the industry," Visit KC CEO Jason Fulzi said.
The Loews Kansas City Hotel, which opened June 1 and connects directly to the Kansas City Convention Center, began welcoming guests after the COVID-19 pandemic started and has not yet been able to cater to attendees big conventions like it had hoped.
The region typically welcomes 25 million visitors per year, according to Fulzi, but gathering and travel restrictions decimated Kansas City's tourism industry during the last year.
In 2020, business were lost, events were canceled and grand openings, like Loews Kansas City Hotel's, were pushed back. The 800-room, 24-story hotel had been scheduled to open in April.
“This hotel has meant a lot and it’s been a long time coming for the Kansas City area, and the local support from the community has just been exceptional," Loews Kansas City Managing Director Brian Johnson said.
While the hotel is open, it's yet to serve its true purpose.
“We have 800 guest rooms and, of course, it’s a large convention hotel," Johnson said. "We have about 65,000 square feet of meeting space. We have the largest hotel ballroom in the city."
In other words, it was designed and built to be a centerpiece downtown that hosted large groups and gatherings, but it's yet to host any major events.
“As I look at the business that we lost from conventions, it was a year's worth of work," Fulzi said.
Years of planning go into welcoming conventions to Kansas City. Those that were canceled are in the process of being rescheduled.
“We are starting to see our lead volume pick up," Fulzi said. "It’s nowhere near where it used to be, right, where it should be, but at least it’s heading in the right direction."
The prospect of future events keeps Johnson optimistic.
“You’ll start to see that through the balance of this year and into next year, and we’re excited about the future," he said. "Things are looking brighter; Things are going to get better. It’s a long road to recovery, but, at the same time, we’re starting that process now and it’s an important first step."