State, East TN counties travel, tourism industries saw record-breaking growth in 2019

Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Tennessee in early 2020, tourism and travel to the Volunteer State in 2019 had reached record-breaking growth, according to a recently released report from the state with numbers from the U.S. Travel Association.

It comes as no surprise that East Tennessee counties were among the top earners last year as part of that growth, with attractions in Blount, Knox, and Sevier counties, respectively.

The report, released by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Gov. Bill Lee, found that Davidson County, which includes the city of Nashville, topped all county indices with $7.5 billion in tourism economic impact. Shelby County was second at $3.8 billion, Sevier third at $2.6 billion, Knox was fourth at $1.22 billion, and Hamilton fifth at $1.21 billion. Williamson County entered at sixth with $497 million and Sullivan County was seventh at $427 million; Blount County was eighth with $425.55 million.

The accomplishments of 2019 in the tourism industry, which has been down this year due to the ongoing pandemic, were acknowledged by the governor along with a reminder that the industry could help the state on the road to recovery in the pandemic.

“Tennessee is a world-renowned destination, and I look forward to the time when we can gather together again at our festivals, sporting events, and more,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a release. “Tourism is our state’s second-largest industry. Coming off another record year, this data underscores the tremendous positive tourism impact on our state’s revenue. As we’ve seen now more than ever, travel and tourism are vital to restoring economic health and recovery in Tennessee.”

Commissioner Mark Ezell, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, said in a press conference with the governor Tuesday that travelers were encouraged to “explore safely” amid the pandemic.

Ezell also remarked on the 2019 numbers, adding that 2020’s numbers won’t see similar results.

“Tennessee tourism was on track the first three months of 2020 before Covid-19 hit,” Ezell said. “And now, the U.S. Travel Association predicts the travel industry in Tennessee could see a 30 to 45 percent decline this year.”

The report revealed that tourism in Tennessee hit a record-high $23 billion in domestic and international travel in 2019; in fact, Tennessee saw 126 million domestic person stays in 2019, which was up from 119 million in 2018. The report also found that all 95 counties saw an increase in economic impact with each having more than $1 million in direct travel spending, and 21 counties saw more than $100 million.

The report also found that in 2019, Tennessee outpaced the nation in all areas of travel – such as tax revenue, expenditures, payroll and employment. There were more jobs in the Tennessee hospitality industry than in any other industry, as well.

Last year, travelers in Tennessee spent an estimated $64 million per day. Tourism generated over $75 million in new state and local tax dollars in 2019, approximately half of which directly supports public education. Those tax dollars also support public safety, health and human services, business and economic development. Travel in Tennessee generated 195,000 jobs and $1.92 billion in state and local tax revenue. Revenue generated saved each household in the state $748 in taxes, an increased savings of almost $40 compared to 2018.

Blount County tourism leaders shared from the report the growth the county has seen last year with its $425.55 million in visitor spending; with leaders saying it represents an increase of nearly $18 million from 2018 and over $168 million from 2009. On an average day in 2019, tourist spending in Blount County generated $1.165 million in daily expenditures and created $309.560 in daily payroll and $39,408 in local tax revenues.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

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


Published August 28, 2020