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Now that COVID-19 appears to be easing, what does that mean for local tourism and its economic impact?

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) -- Now that more people are being vaccinated against the coronavirus, is it finally time for people to travel to Fort Wayne?

"The pandemic was devastating to our local convention and tourism industry," said Visit Fort Wayne's Dan O'Connell.

O'Connell says conventions and tourism in 2019 generated a record $800 million for the local economy.

But in 2020, he says the coronavirus pandemic canceled thousands of local events, forced two hotels and many restaurants to close for good, and cost half a-billion dollars in economic losses.

This year, he hopes a cautious rebound will produce more than $560 million for Allen County's hospitality industry and beyond.

"The U.S. Travel Association reports that 8 out of 10 people want to travel in the next 60 days. So vaccinations are taking that pent-up demand for travel and translating that into visitations. We're seeing a record number of inquiries through our Facebook channels asking about our outdoor activities. That's what people are interested in," he said.

The Grand Wayne Center downtown lost $1.2 million last year in canceled business and had to dip into reserves to help with that loss.

But the executive director says 25 conventions are already booked for August through December, and he's pleased the recovery hasn't been a slow roll out, but more like a light switch being flipped.

"We got to a point very quickly, thankfully, very thankfully, with the help of vaccinations and everything else that people are feeling really comfortable now, not only booking meetings but attending them," Bart Shaw said.

O'Connell says tourism's economic impact isn't limited to just organized events.

"Visitations are a lot of people who have seen our promotions and advertising and actually word of mouth. They've heard a lot about how popular Fort Wayne has become because of its riverfront development, because of its festivals, because of its restaurant scene. We're a very popular destination," he said.

The hope is that people will continue to visit the Summit City as more people get vaccinated and the coronavirus pandemic eases.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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