Detroit tourism seeks rebound after year lost to pandemic

In a photo from May 6, 2021, Timothy Tharp with patrons Cecelia Shelley, center, and Amber Nolan, at his Checker Bar in downtown Detroit. Tharp also owns Grand Trunk Pub and the Whisky Parlor. He estimates that his businesses have lost about $1 million after closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But now as vaccinations increase and government-ordered lockdowns and restrictions to protect the public are being lifted, Tharpe believes the coronavirus pandemic could be remembered as just another hurdle the Motor City has had to leap. (AP Photo/Corey Williams)
In a photo from May 6, 2021, Timothy Tharp with patrons Cecelia Shelley, center, and Amber Nolan, at his Checker Bar in downtown Detroit. Tharp also owns Grand Trunk Pub and the Whisky Parlor. He estimates that his businesses have lost about $1 million after closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But now as vaccinations increase and government-ordered lockdowns and restrictions to protect the public are being lifted, Tharpe believes the coronavirus pandemic could be remembered as just another hurdle the Motor City has had to leap. (AP Photo/Corey Williams) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DETROIT – Timothy Tharp has owned businesses in Detroit long enough to remember when parts of downtown resembled a ghost town. He’s also seen its resurgence with new restaurants, hotels and throngs of people since the city's emergence from bankruptcy.

Then came COVID-19 and people stopped coming. Tharp estimates his three restaurants and bars have lost a combined $1 million since March 2020.

But now as vaccinations increase and government-ordered lockdowns and restrictions are lifted, Tharp believes the coronavirus pandemic could be remembered as just another hurdle the Motor City has overcome.

“We’ve gotten used to the apocalypse over and over and over again,” said Tharp who owns Grand Trunk Pub, the Whisky Parlor and the Checker Bar in and around downtown. “We crawl out of the ashes and rise again every 10 years. That’s what we do.”

Groups and companies already are booking dates in Detroit for this year and next. Businesses also are putting together Detroit-specific packages featuring high-end hotels and swanky restaurants, an effort to attract short-stay visitors who can drive in from nearby states.

Detroit is not alone. Convention and tourism leaders across the U.S. are banking on a comeback from the virus, which forced most Americans to stay close to home for months last year.

The costs of COVID to the convention and business meeting industry is “not even believable,” said Sherrif Karamat, president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based Professional Convention Management Association and the PCMA Foundation.

In the U.S., losses are estimated at $300 billion. The year before the pandemic, conventions generated more than $1 trillion globally, Karamat said.