Remember the shock we all felt when some area hotels sent the vast majority of their workers home in March 2020? We hoped it would be a short blow to the local travel and tourism business, but then it became clear it would linger. And linger.
2021 has seen building numbers of hotel stays and visitors to the city. The evidence is all around: Hotel valet parking lots are often filled. More people are looking at wayfinding maps. A range of languages has returned to the street. The sidewalks are crowded. I got behind four ladies from Florida in the Pharmacy the other day, for goodness sake. And the Visitor Center has welcomed tourists from all 50 states in 2021.
Visit Knoxville recently released many of the metrics they use to measure visits to the city and they show what can be felt on the street: People are back. The report covers January through June which, to be fair was a period of rapidly declining COVID-19 rates and a vaccination that seemed poised to lead us to a COVID-free world. Alas, we’ll have to see the next report to find out what happens next. Here’s hoping it carries more good news with more visitors and less circulating virus.
For now, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the first half of 2021. One caveat: Comparisons are to the previous quarter or to the same quarter last year, meaning, to quarters we were in more trouble from the pandemic. Increases do not necessarily indicate we have returned to 2019 levels. The figures include Knoxville area hotels, and are not limited to downtown figures.
For the first six months of this year, hotel occupancy was 59.7% from January to June. This reflects an increase over the same period last year of 43.9%. That does, of course, include the near lockdown from March into April of last year, but it also includes January of this year, in which cases peaked. The average room went for $89.06, up 9.5% from last year.
A total of 981,918 rooms were sold over that six month period across the county. This reflects a 41.4% increase over the same period last year. Just via the Visit Knoxville website and their digital ads, 33,256 bookings were made for 77,802 nights totaling more than $9.3 million in revenue.
The top five booking markets include one surprise city: Knoxville. We apparently love our staycations. What do you want to be that most of those nights are spent downtown? “Knoxville” in this case means any of the twenty-two counties in our region for whom the closest city is Knoxville. The top five booking markets in order are: Atlanta, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, and Indianapolis. Even in 2020 5.3 million visitors stayed overnight.
To give an idea of the economic impact tourism has on Knoxville in a normal year, we’d have to look back to 2019. According to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, tourism resulted in $1.22 billion in spending inside Knox County. The expenditures generated $28.6 million in local tax revenues and $64 million in state tax revenues. 10,700 jobs in Knox County are in the travel industry.
Additionally, bookings for conventions have returned, with 35 bookings so far this year, reflecting 59,600 visitor days. Individual visitors have requested visitor guides from around the county. The top states requesting visitor guides were Tennessee, Illinois, Florida, California, North Carolina, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
So, tourism is a big deal for Knoxville. People want to come here and it helps us when they do. The virus may dictate how this year ends, but clearly the demand is there. Check out the video below to see one of the ways Visit Knoxville is promoting the city. And be sure to welcome anyone you see who appears to be a visitor. Your impression may be the one they remember.