Tennessee leaders work to recover from almost half-billion travel spending loss during pandemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has now lost almost half a billion dollars in travel spending since the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, travel spending plummeted between January and August of last year by $341 million. That’s meant a total loss of $492 million for 2020.

Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell said hotel lodging and eating and drinking remained the number one and two sources of lost revenue statewide compared to the previous year with a $300 million shortfall during the pandemic.

(Courtesy: TN Department of Tourist Development)

Ezell explained that vaccine roll-out will play a significant role in seeing improvements. According to researchers at Destination Analysts, more than 57-percent of Americans said wide distribution of an effective vaccine was a requirement for a return to normalcy.

“We know people are planning trips, getting ready for summertime and fall when the vaccine will allow people to travel again at a large level at a large-scale level,” Ezell said, adding that Nashville usually accounts for about half of the hotel revenues in the state and is about a quarter of that now. “Bad news, some sections [of the state] have got to have vaccine distribution and some things for them to be able to recover especially with that business, convention travel, that entertainment visitor. The good news is Nashville, and places like Nashville, Memphis, and others, are ready.”

Ezell said people in Tennessee were traveling about 100-500 on average in the last quarter, which indicated that trips were increasing.

The “For the Love of Tennessee” travel safe campaign encouraged people to get out safely, and Ezell said the state has seen progress in some sectors.

“The outdoor activity for Tennessee and our great natural resources have really been a key that our sales tax revenue for December was actually up over a year ago. What we see is there are some regions in Tennessee that continue to thrive and prosper due to their outdoor activities and their ability to adjust,” Ezell explained. “What Gatlinburg has done, what Sevier County has done, really East TN with Great Smokey Mountain National Park, but then our state parks had record camping in October and record participants in November so we’ve seen it statewide.”

He said online retailers and those in the building services industry also experienced growth in their bottom line during the pandemic.

“Just about all of the retail business has offered the ability to have a pickup area or a delivery service they have added that consumers have felt like they want the products and they want a different methodology to get those products in a safer way for them,” Ezell said. “So, we’ve seen the Tennessee business community really react well in providing those additional options.”

He said their goals remain making sure businesses are opening, operating, and doing so within the guidelines of the Tennessee Pledge.

MORE: Tennessee COVID-19 Research and Insights

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