Knoxville, Asheville draw tourists outdoors
Choosing Knoxville as the next location for Asheville-based Hi-Wire Brewing felt comfortable and familiar, co-owner Adam Charnack said.
The craft beer brand will open up a taproom in South Knoxville in May.
“It’s sort of like escaping your own city, trying something different but it also feels comfortable and familiar,” he said.
He credited the emphasis on the outdoors, walkability, the redeveloping South Knoxville neighborhood and Knoxville’s beer culture as some of those similarities.
Both cities have seen positive tourism indicators in the past few years.
The Knoxville brand
What attracted Hi-Wire to Knoxville is part of what’s been a decade-long tourism evolution for the city, said Visit Knoxville president Kim Bumpas.
The revitalization of Market Square, the emergence of the Urban Wilderness and South Knoxville, the evolving marketing strategy of Visit Knoxville and the city’s growing reputation as a food scene are all contributing factors.
“We’re on the map now as a premiere getaway destination,” she said.
Visit Knoxville’s new partnership with research firm Longwoods International will help it collect more aggressive tourism data. According to its first round of data, Knoxville had 6.3 million overnight guests in 2017.
Knoxville produced more than $1 billion in travel-generated spending in 2017, according to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.
Knoxville tourists describe the city as walkable, outdoorsy, with a great food scene, ample breweries and a local-first downtown, Bumpas said.
The Asheville brand
The two city brands have significant overlap. Charnack described the North Carolina city as a “funky small town” defined by mountains, crafts, makers, artists and open-mindedness.
“The brand that I see is very laid back, casual outdoors people (who) just want to relax, be with others, socialize with others, having a good time,” said Dan Whalen, vice president and broker in charge at NAI Beverly-Hanks in Asheville.
In short: It’s a jeans and T-shirt kind of town, not a khakis and starched shirts, he said.
That brand has paid off.
Asheville was named one of the 15 coolest places to go in 2018 by Forbes and was Lonely Planet’s Top Travel Destination in 2017. According to the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 10.9 million people visited Buncombe County in 2016 and 11.1 million in 2017. Of those 11.1 million, 3.9 million were overnight visitors.
In 2017, visitors spent $2 billion, according to research firm Tourism Economics. Both total visitors and spending per visitor increased in 2017. In 1983, that number was $190 million, said Explore Asheville deputy director and vice president Marla Tambellini.
The outdoor appeal, downtown areas and love of craft beer are all shared ties.
The “anti-establishment” people of Asheville are looking for “chic, unique mom-and-pop stuff,” Whalen said.
Asheville’s arts and crafts scene can draw parallels to Knoxville’s maker movement as well.
Beer is big in both cities. The Asheville area has 43 breweries with several on the way, according to Explore Asheville.
“I honestly don’t know the name of every single brewery in the region,” Charnack said. “I can’t, it’s impossible.”
There are 20 breweries on Visit Knoxville’s “Ale Trail” guide.
Asheville’s distinct features include the sprawling Biltmore Estate, winery and village, a one-of-a-kind attraction.
McCormick Field is home to the Asheville Tourists minor league baseball team. Given recent talks, it’s possible the Boyd family will relocate the Smokies from Sevier County to the Old City, giving Knoxville that same downtown sports attraction.
Fun, trendy businesses like The Amazing Pubcycle, a bar on wheels; Well Played Board Game Cafe and Better Than Unicorns, a virtual reality arena, seem like inevitable additions to Knoxville.
In addition to the number of visitors, Asheville has seen an influx of development of hotels and condos downtown in the last four years, totaling a 6 percent increase in supply.
There’s been new construction on hotels from the affordable, like Hilton Garden Inn, to chic, independent brands like Aloft and Cambria Suites.
In 2018, the hotel occupancy rate in Buncombe County was 72.7 percent, which stayed flat over two years. The ADR was $158.42 for the calendar year of 2018, a 2.8 percent increase. The actual hotel rooms sold numbered 2,083,660, a 5.7 percent increase.
Asheville lodging spending in 2017 was $453 million, a year-over-year increase of 6.3 percent. The average stay was 3 nights.
Providence Commercial Real Estate president Jay Cobble recalls spending a weekend in Asheville about six years ago. He remembers having enough different retail, restaurants and entertainment to spend an entire weekend there. He couldn’t have said the same for Knoxville at the time, he said.
“Asheville’s always been a more progressive city, and so the reurbanization happened there first,” Cobble said. “Their assets focused more on downtown before we did.
“We’re catching up to that stuff now,” he said.
Increases in occupancy and average daily rates are a key indicator of that development.
Bumpas said Asheville is a little bit ahead of Knoxville in its offerings of upscale hotels. But development of more downtown hotels will help.
Visitors stayed overnight in Knoxville an average of 2.3 nights in 2017. Hotel occupancy in 2018 was 64.8 percent, up 4.2 percent from 2017, according to Visit Knox.
The Knox county-wide average daily rate (ADR) was $93.50, up 3.9 percent county-wide. The downtown ADR increased by 2.6 percent to $132.08.
Local travel-related tax revenues were $26.2 million in 2017, up from $25.64 million in 2016, according to the TDTD.
Alike but different
Though Bumpas said the two cities probably won’t ever build a marketing strategy together, the two are often compared by visitors and they’re close enough in proximity to benefit from each other’s successes.
They’re both destinations that emphasize relaxation, whatever that means for the visitor.
Bumpas said visitors have called Asheville more “trendy,” and not necessarily in a good way.
“Sometimes Asheville can feel a little clique-y,” Bumpas said.
Tambellini said Knoxville is becoming a great tourism destination and shares many similarities to Asheville. They bookend the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they have great outdoor features and she’s seen Knoxville work to develop downtown and build a food scene.
“I think it’s about identifying the unique attributes of what your city has to offer and be able to understand those and message them,” she said.
Knoxville will continue to appeal to a new generation of travelers interested in health and outdoors activity. South Knoxville will be a critical part of attracting that different sector of visitor. And it likely will be competing with Asheville for those visitors.
Bumpas said there are “game changing” tourism experiences in development in Knoxville that will lead to more restaurants, more shopping and will have an impact on tourism.
“I wish that everyone that lived in Knoxville got to see Knoxville the way I do on a daily basis,” Bumpas said. “This really awesome unique experience that is really hard to replicate anywhere else in the entire country or world.”
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott
The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org
Published March 29, 2019