Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read August 2021 — “The IndyCar Grand Prix that came to Nashville is a good example of doing something different for the city and putting our music stamp on it so that it truly becomes unique to us,” Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, told Invest: as he discussed the success of promoting Nashville and the growth of the business travel and leisure tourism segments, which represent $7.5 billion in annual spending in the city.
What makes Music City a great place to visit?
It is probably one of the few authentic American destinations left; we pride ourselves on the authentic experience. Everything we do is wrapped in music and a creative culture and that is what makes us a national success.
What differentiates Nashville as a travel destination?
We always use big events as a branding mechanism and a demand generator. The IndyCar Grand Prix that came to Nashville is a good example of doing something different for the city and putting our music stamp on it so that it truly becomes unique to us. What we say is bring us your event and we put our stamp on it. It’s a recipe for success. We’ll do what we do best, which is to provide music and entertainment.
How important is the tourism industry for the city’s economy?
In a year, we’ll do over 16 million visitors spending about $7.5 billion. Our market segments are 40% leisure and 40% meetings and conventions. The balance is business travel. International is one of the newer markets, and the UK is our primary focus. We’re making headway into Europe, as well as Australia. We have a lot of room to grow, and we’re not done.
What is the state of tourism activity in the region?
We bottomed at around 17% or 18% hotel occupancy in May 2020. By summer 2021, we climbed back to the upper 50% or lower 60% hotel occupancy. Late summer was expected to be impacted by the latest COVID surge, so that number could go down a little. Our recovery has been a little bit faster than projected and certainly compared to the rest of the country. We started to feel the conventions were coming back this summer with a full calendar in the fall, but we’re surrounded by a lot of uncertainty. We’re keeping our heads down, but we’ll figure it out.
What is the state of business and convention travel and what are you doing to promote that segment?
We worked closely with the local health department to do bigger sized meetings this summer. We hosted a 23,000-person event for the Southern Baptist Convention. We had 4,000 members from the Association for Iron and Steel Technology and another 9,000 members of another association. Now, we are facing uncertainty, and some corporate meetings are canceling. Larger association meetings are still hanging on as they need the meetings for revenue purposes. Corporate meetings are an expense, so they get cut, but association meetings are a revenue stream.
In which specific industries do you see a lot of potential in terms of more and new events?
Sporting events are always going to attract our attention. Nashville hosted three new racing events in 2021, including the Music City Grand Prix. We hosted a World Cup 2022 Qualifier match in September, and we are in contention to be a host city for the World Cup in 2026. We’ll call the NFL and discuss future opportunities for us. We have an NHL stadium series next February, and we’ll do our best to leverage that event. We plan to produce our annual New Year’s Eve concert for the city, and we are in early conversations to turn that into a televised event with a major broadcast partner.
How has the NCVC prepared for a recovery?
We had a very rough 18 months: a tornado, the COVID shutdown, protests, a downtown bombing, floods and then another tornado. We started to think about how to get visitors to come back. We got better. The products of our destination improved. More hotels, new attractions, more restaurants. So, our campaign was “While you were away, we’ve been creating.” We took a more positive approach. We’re in good shape now and that is because we decided to add value to the city by providing economic support to the sectors that were struggling. We kept our team intact, and we kept selling and talking to our clients. All those things gave us a great deal of confidence.
What is your long-term outlook for the city’s economy?
Construction, especially hotel construction, will continue. Our future sales are as strong as they have ever been; we’re pacing way ahead of our target. If we don’t have a major setback and we get to spring of 2022, then our future is very bright. We are very bullish and optimistic. If we can get people to take that vaccine, life will be good.
For more information, visit: https://www.visitmusiccity.com/