People are buzzing about a new tourism initiative that was recently announced by Gov. Bill Lee. The “Tennessee on Me” program offers a $250 airline voucher when you book at least two nights in select hotels in the state’s four largest cities – Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. To encourage longer stays, one of the nights must be Sunday through Wednesday. The campaign has a $2.5 million price tag, as 10,000 vouchers are available.
It’s an expensive initiative funded with Tennessee tax dollars, but Karen Tindal, Farragut tourism coordinator, thinks the money tourists will spend will benefit businesses throughout the state.
“Anytime you can bring visitors in, it helps every destination in the area. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats,” she says.
There’s no doubt that tourism is rebounding as vaccination rates rise and COVID worries lessen, but there is still room for improvement. While suburban areas began seeing occupancy bounce back in the spring (Farragut’s May 2021 occupancy was 69%, compared to 35% in 2020 and 72% in 2019), visitors have been slower to return to larger cities due to COVID concerns, Tindal says. She thinks encouraging travel to the state’s largest cities will benefit them and result in a revenue bump in revenue for surrounding areas.
“This is a great opportunity to visit the big four, and also dive into the smaller communities around those cities, like Farragut.”
One obvious way to take advantage of “Tennessee on Me” is to invite out-of-state family to visit. Trips are booked directly at tennesseeonme.com. After making a reservation at selected hotels (like the Hampton Inn Farragut), participants receive a $250 voucher from American Airlines, Delta Airlines or Southwest Airlines. Reservations must be completed by Sept. 15 (if the airline vouchers last that long) for travel through Dec. 30, 2021.
While the state is ponying up funds to attract visitors, HospitalityTN, a trade association that represents the hospitality and tourism industry, is trying to address the labor shortage that is plaguing Tennessee. The hospitality industry – hotel, restaurant, entertainment and retail businesses – has been particularly hampered after losing staff during the pandemic, effectively limiting visitor spending. That info is available on the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development website here. Some of the jobs are remote and many offer sign-on bonuses.
Now that festivals, events and other fun are back on the calendar, the pent-up desire to travel could result in serious revenue for areas that cater to tourists. The “Tennessee on Me” program could direct some of those funds to East Tennessee, which would directly benefit Knoxville and its suburbs. Let’s do everything we can to make Farragut a welcoming place for all visitors. The longer they stay, the more money they’ll spend, and that benefits our businesses as well as our community.
Town of Farragut marketing and public relations coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut insider.