Around 175 people tuned into the 2021 Virtual Chattanooga Tourism Summit to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the future of Hamilton County’s hospitality and tourism industry. Speakers from TripAdvisor, Miles Partnership and STR shared insights, research and best practices to help guide tourism’s recovery.
“A destination marketing organization can only succeed when the destination succeeds. Without a healthy, unique, and appealing product to promote, without each of you, the Chattanooga Tourism Co. and Chattanooga and Hamilton County cannot succeed,” Barry White, president and CEO of Chattanooga Tourism Co., told participants.
“At one-point last year, our product was not available, and marketing came to a halt. But our community stepped up with many businesses completely changing their operating models,” said Mr. White.
In 2019, tourism had an economic impact of $1.2 billion in Hamilton County. While tourism was down 11 percent in Hamilton County in 2020 compared to the previous year according to data from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, White shared that Chattanooga and Hamilton County fared better than the state average and Tennessee’s three largest cities.
Looking ahead to the future, Mr. White showed Longwoods International sentiment research that indicates 81 percent of people plan to travel within the next six months. The Chattanooga Tourism Co. is anticipating an uptick in fall activity with events like the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival and FreightWaves LIVE, which is expected to bring in 2,000 people.
Keynote speaker Steven Paganelli of TripAdvisor shared national and local data and research, doubling down on intent to travel. He said 66 percent of consumers are more likely to travel once they get the vaccine.
“Travel planning may well be forever changed,” said Mr. Paganelli, TripAdvisor Group head of Destination Marketing, Americas. “Knowing how your consumer is feeling at each [travel planning] stage is an opportunity, and making travelers feel safe will continue to be essential in recovery of the industry.”
Mr. Paganelli said tourism businesses can capitalize on data showing that Chattanooga has the second shortest booking window compared to other destinations around the South. He said travelers are looking for positive messages and heart-felt stories and that much of the discussion about Chattanooga on TripAdvisor’s platform centers around the outdoors and activities like hiking and cycling.
The summit included remarks from Keith Sanford, Chattanooga Tourism Co. board chair and president & CEO of the Tennessee Aquarium, as well as Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger. Local musician Frank Bumpass kicked off the program with his smooth jazz saxophone stylings.
Concurrent breakout sessions included research and information from Josh Wray with Miles Partnership Program on managing your online reputation and Jennifer Foster with Smith Travel Research on the state of the hotel industry nationally and in Hamilton County.
For more information about the 2021 Virtual Chattanooga Tourism Summit and to view a recording, go to VisitChattanooga.com/Summit. In addition, view the 2020 Tourism Report here.