Data from Smith Travel Research and provided to 10News by Visit Knoxville shows that the demand for hotel rooms in the Knoxville area was higher than in other areas.
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – The tourism industry is one of the parts of our economy hardest hit by COVID-19, but it looks like eastern Tennessee is rebounding faster than other parts of the state .
When it all came to a halt earlier this year, pull over while everyone else is home.
Knox County saw hotel occupancy rates drop to 22.6% in April from just 4.4% downtown, the lowest that Visit Knoxville President Kim Bumpas said have never seen in his 25 years of work in tourism.
“COVID-19 has been devastating for our industry. It has impacted the whole country, the whole world,” she said.
Visit Knoxville worked with organizers to first postpone and then cancel over 97 events this year. But Bumpas said many of those events have been rescheduled for 2021 and even beyond.
When things started to reopen in May, Bumpas said tourism started to rebound fairly quickly in Knoxville.
“While it’s still going down, it could be worse,” she said, and the momentum is in our favor.
The hotel occupancy rate in downtown Knoxville in July was 79.1% and in August it was up 1,700% from the April low. Across the county, demand increased 126% from April to August.
The state has allocated some of the federal government’s CARES bill money to COVID-friendly marketing for Knoxville and eastern Tennessee.
Knoxville is an attractive city to visit. It’s within driving distance of most of the country, affordable, and very outdoorsy oriented. Bumpas said the Knoxville mask warrant and other COVID-19 security measures appeared to comfort visitors.
“People want to go somewhere, take a hike, eat in good restaurants, stay in a good hotel,” she said.
It seems that more people are choosing Knoxville than other cities in Tennessee right now.
Data from Smith Travel Research and provided to 10News by Visit Knoxville shows that demand for hotel rooms in the Knoxville area was higher than anywhere else in the state this summer.
As of January 2020, Nashville had the highest demand for hotel rooms in Tennessee. Memphis and Knoxville were second and third, but the gap was narrow. When the pandemic hit, tourism plunged to an April low for all cities.
As cities reopened, Knoxville gained ground faster than Nashville in July, with Memphis in third place.
When you look at actual hotel occupancy rates in July, Pigeon Forge took the top spot, with around 70% of rooms occupied. Knoxville was in second place with about 60 percent occupancy. Nashville was below 40% occupancy in July, although the largest city in Tennessee may have more hotel rooms available.
Bumpas said Visit Knoxville will continue to share the message that the city is a safe place to visit and that tourists are welcome here.
A sign of further progress is coming in October, when Knoxville will host the National Street Rod Nationals South for the 37th year. It is one of the only big events still happening in 2020.
“We are very proud to be able to host for them and our community,” said Bumpas.
The event is being held outdoors and visitors will be required to wear a mask and adhere to other safety guidelines.
Bumpas said it would be a great activity for locals and tourists alike.
“It’s an activity that gets you out of the house, you can walk outside, look at these amazing cars,” she said.
The event will take place October 2-4 at Chilhowee Park. You can get more information here.