Annual Number of Overnight Visitors to Knox County
Visit Knoxville released a trove of information this week on what they have been up to in the most recent quarter, along with tourism data going through the end of the previous year. Events sponsored by them directly included holiday-related events, of course, such as the Tour de Lights and Holiday Market at Mary Costa Plaza in which the group partnered with Bike Walk Knox.
Santa made a first visit ever to the Sunsphere for Santa at the Sunsphere. That venerable Knoxville landmark also enjoyed a fresh coat of paint, returning to its original PANTONE® Classic Blue. Much of the funding for the upgrade came from admission to the iconic structure, as the recently renovated observation deck welcomed its 100,000th visitor since the reopening in February 2022.
The event with the most likely long-term impact for the city came in the form of Film Fest Knox, hosted by the Visit Knoxville Film Office and partners Regal and The Public Cinema. It garner attention from industry publications for regional works, a benefit that could produce long-term results. Expect it to return even bigger and better next year.
Other highlights from the quarter included:
Receiving the 2023 SportsTravel Best Professional Event of the Year – The award was presented to the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission (VKSC), and the team at B.A.S.S. for thee 2023 Bassmaster Classic. The event drew 163,914 people, the largest crowd in the history of the event.
Hosting “Taste & See: East Tennessee – an Unforgettably Fun Foodie FAM”– The event, held November 1 – 5, hosted representatives from Jacksonville, Richmond and Denver media groups. The group visited the East Tennessee History Center, the Tennessee Theatre, the Knoxville Museum of Art and enjoyed area food from Matt Robb’s Biscuits to Vida, Curious Dog, Bistro by the Tracks and Cruise Farm. The group also visited Townsend and enjoyed the AMBC’s Fall Fest at Baker Creek Preserve. Press followed.
Visit Knoxville also hosted a long list of clients and potential clients for upcoming conventions and events. These hosting events often lead to events in coming years, typically at the Knoxville Convention Center. The groups are often off the radar of most of us, though many of them stay and eat downtown. Among those shown around town (including hotels facilities for their events):
National Extension of Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (for possible location of 2026 NEAFCS Annual Session)
The International Society for Nuclear Air Treatment Technologies (possible for Fall 2024)
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) (possible for 2024)
The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
National Cage Bird Show – The group has used the Jacobs building and plans to move to the Knoxville Convention Center
Electromagnetic Nondestructive Evaluation (ENDE) International
CrossFit® Games North America East Qualifier – Possible host for the event later this year
American Trail Running Association – Possible host for the American Trail Running National Conference in 2024. The Urban Wilderness served as an inducement.
Gun Owners of America – Possible event in August 2024
In addition to the quarterly information above, Visit Knoxville also released, via their Tourism Dashboard, statistics for the year that just ended, as well as some from 2022 as those numbers have become finalized. The numbers included cover the Knoxville/Knox County area, so the average number of hotel stays, percentage of occupancy and hotel price is (my guess) probably lower than if we isolated downtown hotels.
For the county, hotel occupancy averaged 66.7% through the year (almost identical to the national rate), with a high of about 76% in June at the peak of travel season. The average price for a room was $122.50 (clearly no where near downtown). 2,424,687 rooms were sold for the year with the top booking markets being Atlanta, Charlotte, Knoxville (this includes the nearest 22 counties in Tennessee and southern Kentucky), Nashville, and Washington, D.C. About half the stays were for one night, while about half were for multiple nights, including over 10% who stayed for four nights or more.
Visitors for 2022 totaled 7.4 million people and represented an 8.8% increase over the previous year. The trajectory for the number of visits leans steadily upward with the obvious exception of 2020. Just seven years ago the county only logged 6.2 million visitors for the year. The visitors spent an estimated $1.8 billion while here, generating $69.4 million in local taxes, $118.5 million in state taxes and 14,170 jobs.
Clearly, the word is out, and with the largest increase coming in the most recent year measured, we may see escalating numbers of tourists discovering our beautiful, walkable city. The good news for the rest of us is that they leave behind a trail of money and jobs and the rest of us? Well, we get to live here every day and enjoy what they’ve traveled to find.