COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — You’ve heard the saying “Columbus is the best place to work, live and play.”

But new data from Experience Columbus shows it is also one of the best places to visit.

Tourism officials said visitor numbers grew by around 16 percent in 2022 and is on track to keep increasing this year and next.

Experience Columbus said those visitors spent $7 billion in the city in 2022.

“The travel economy is vital to Columbus and Franklin County. We welcome close to 50 million visitors a year,” Experience Columbus President and CEO Brian Ross said.

Those visitors are coming for a variety of reasons. Almost half are visiting family, 13 percent are attending a special event, 12 percent are attending a business meeting or convention, and 5 percent for a business/leisure trip.

“I believe the key factors are the type of business we’re having come into the community,” Ross said. “When we look at groups, conventions, and sporting events and then our leisure travel, they’re actually a little bit above the 2019 demand.”

Ross said Experience Columbus did a perception study within the community about tourism. He said the results point toward community members being proud to show off their city. The study shows 92 percent of residents believe tourism benefits the community and 86 percent of residents rate Columbus as a good place to live.

“As we look forward, we are having positive trends and understand how important it is to grow the visitors, grow the conventions, sporting events, business development, additional students, whether it’s Ohio State or surrounding universities, and all of that has a positive impact on our residents and workforce development,” Ross said.

Experience Columbus said the travel industry supports around 75,000 jobs in the city. So much of the visitor spending money is going right back into the hands of Columbus residents.

Columbus airport officials said summer travel numbers are soaring back to what they were before the pandemic. While September numbers aren’t in just yet, officials are expecting those to be the highest of 2023.

Experience Columbus said economists are predicting a slight recession in late 2023. However, they believe leisure travel will remain resilient.

Data shows overnight visitors increased by 12 percent in 2022 over 2021, which resulted in 9.9 million more people.

“Columbus is on fire right now,” Hilton Columbus Downtown General Manager Christian Coffin said.

Coffin said the hotel’s demand is back to 2019 levels and said 2024 is already looking to be their best yet.

“We’ve got some great groups coming in,” he said. “We kick off the year in January with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships coming in right across at the arena. Later in the year, we have the MLS All-Star team playing down at the next arena down. Hotel rooms are going fast, but it’s going to be a very, very busy year. Group business is very, very strong this year, which is great. And that’s one reason the new tower here has allowed us to welcome bigger groups.”

Coffin said right now is the peak season for them, with the hotel being almost fully booked through November.

Data trends show the busiest travel months in Columbus are typically July through September, which lines up with festival season.