Delta Variant Slows Summer Tourism, But Fall Still Promising

downtown franklin
photo from Visit Franklin TN Facebook Page

According to Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, the tourism industry saves every household $500 in additional taxes every year. That is why it is so important that the recovery continues as it has been over the summer, until the COVID-19 Delta Variant popped its virulent little head into the mix.

Between June and August 2020, the average monthly hotel occupancy was around 35%, according to Lauren Ward, Vice President of Communications, Visit Franklin. But this summer, the average monthly hotel occupancy was around 65%.

“Comparing the last week in July 2020 to the last week in July 2021, there was a 114% increase in hotel occupancy,” said Ward. “Leisure travel has made a strong return since April, filling our hotels on weekends. Business and meetings travel has been slower to return, but we are seeing increases in mid-week occupancy.”

Restaurants, shops, and the many attractions in Franklin have been seeing a continual rise in out of town visitors since April, and strong sales. Also, the Heritage Foundation’s Main Street Festival had a strong showing this year in July, which followed a good turnout for the Juneteenth Celebration. Pilgrimage Festival, which will occur the last weekend in September, is reporting strong sales this year and they expect to sell out.

“The tourism industry as a whole took a huge loss over the past year and a half,” explained Ward, “and we are still recovering as COVID-19 cases rise nationally. We are beginning our second year of executing a comprehensive tourism recovery plan, making every dollar count in marketing and selling the destination to leisure travelers, meetings, groups and youth sports tournaments.”

National research from Destination Analysts has shown that although travel sentiment is taking a hit in the short-term, visitors are holding on to their fall travel plans and are specifically interested in road trips and outdoor activities.

“Our destination is positioned well as we move into the fall,” Ward added, “as we are a heavy drive-market destination. With this in mind, a portion of our marketing plan focuses on heavily advertising in our top drive market destinations, promoting our beautiful outdoor assets and activities.”

While Visit Franklin is excited about the momentum tourism has had this summer, they are also conscious and monitoring the potential impact of the Delta variant on travel. According to national research, optimism about the pandemic and a return to normalcy has receded in the past several weeks, and consumer confidence in their ability to travel safely has also dropped in the short-term.

The good news is that most travelers are holding on to fall travel plans that include Franklin and Middle Tennessee due to it being less congested than a large city, and its offering of many outside activities with the beautiful natural surroundings.

“As mentioned earlier,” said Ward, “interest in road trips, dining in restaurants, staying in hotels, shopping and outdoor recreation activities still ranks high for travelers, and we are well-positioned as a destination to capitalize on visitors looking for those experiences.”

Meeting and conventions are a different matter. While Visit Franklin continues to pursue and book meetings and youth sports tournaments, they are also working to ensure that attendees feel safe in the destination, and understand the value of hosting meetings in Franklin compared to other larger destinations.

“Conventions have returned slowly,” noted Ward, “and we have assisted several groups that have held successful conventions this year. We have a dedicated employee who serves as a health and safety expert to serve as a resource to meeting, sports and group planners. She has the ability to answer questions about county mandates as well as safety and hygiene processes in our venues, hotels, restaurants, retail shops and attractions. Several large city-wide conventions have been held in Middle Tennessee in the last couple of months. We are not back to pre-pandemic levels but are seeing strong bookings as we move into 2022.”