Memphis tourism numbers took a hit in March as coronavirus spread

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One-third of Shelby county unemployment claims filed by employees in tourism industry

Graceland

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis area’s tourism industry was hit “hard and fast” by COVID-19 in March, according to Memphis Travel.

Visits to Memphis dropped by nearly one-third in March, as the coronavirus spread and travel slowed to a trickle, following what had been a strong month for visitors in February.

Year-to-date, visits to Memphis are down 8.4% compared to the first three months of last year, and Memphis tourism officials say they expect even steeper drops in April. Those numbers are not yet available.

The Memphis area was somewhat shielded by its high concentration of “economy hotels,” which have performed somewhat better during the pandemic.

However, Downtown hotel occupancy dropped 60% in March.

The drop in tourism affected employment numbers for the area, too. Data from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development shows one-third of all Shelby County unemployment claims in March were filed by employees in the tourism industry.

Most of those unemployment claims were filed in the last 10 days of the month, when the Memphis and Shelby County safer-at-home orders went into effect, Memphis Travel officials said. 

Memphis Travel reported 12.4 million visitors to Memphis in 2019, and the industry employs more than 49,000 locally. Travel guides like Frommer’s and TripSavvy named the city a top destination in 2019.

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