What a difference a year makes for the Colombia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The pandemic was in its early stages in March last year when Boone County officials issued a stay at home order on March 24, 2020.

Columbia hotel occupancy rates dropped to 39% that month as travel across mid-Missouri and across the nation slowed due to coronavirus concerns. Those numbers rose to 53% last month, nearing pre-pandemic levels, according to Megan McConachie, spokeswoman for the bureau.

“This is definitely a huge improvement over that time last year,” said McConachie. “Only people who can gather again. There were a ton of pent-up travel requests when people were locked up or quarantined. ”

Local hotels and businesses are banking on this growing demand in Boone County. The office noticed an increase in occupancy and tourism before the county ended its health policy last week.

More:Which cities and counties in Missouri still have COVID-19 mask mandates?

The county no longer has a mask mandate or social distancing requirements.

“The dates we’re seeing, there are a lot of people planning to travel in the next six months,” McConachie said. “The future prospects in the tourism sector are much more positive.”

Visitors will benefit from the lack of restrictions on travel to Boone County, but it will also help the office recruit conventions, meetings, and sporting events, McConachie said.

It’s important for organizers to know they can hold conferences and events the way they originally envisioned, McConachie said.

The True / False Film Fest hosted its annual event in early May in a new format that focused on outdoor screenings, while the University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College held socially detached graduation ceremonies.

With the health order expiring, visitors can expect a new normal out of Boone County, according to McConachie.

“It has definitely been a very encouraging time in the past few weeks to see people and look forward to visiting Columbia and coming here and hosting an event,” said McConachie. “Although True / False was different this year, it was really an exciting atmosphere for us to feel that excitement and anticipation of having people in town and then being in our community.”

More:Free COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics for Columbia Students 12+

Silverball at 122 S. Ninth St. offers drinks and arcades seven days a week.  Many businesses in Colombia are recovering after the occupancy and business time restrictions were lifted.

The only downside to local bars, restaurants, and hotels serving customers at full capacity is current staffing levels – something Matt McCormick, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that companies welcome more customers.

“One of the things we want to remind people of is that some of our companies are going to be taking a little longer to fill up, or either fill up, or have full lines again,” said McCormick. “Be patient with our businesses and our businesses.”

However, things are finally moving in the right direction.

“Things are starting to bounce back,” said McConachie. “It’s going to be a long rebound, but the numbers we’re seeing are definitely encouraging.”