Chattanooga, TN – At the directive of Governor Bill Lee, restrictions on businesses and gatherings have been removed by the Hamilton County Health Department as of Wednesday September 30th.
Hospitality and tourism make up a huge portion of Chattanooga’s economy, and unfortunately the lockdown restrictions have done incredible damage to this industry.
The local community is watching intently as tourist destinations such as Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium face economic hardship and newfound freedom to rebuild.
In a recent interview, Thom Benson, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer of the Tennessee Aquarium addressed the reality of the economic damage while expressing confidence for the future.
“The pandemic hit us at the worst time of the year”, Benson said. He indicated that spring break is when attendance starts to build for the year, but that’s when shutdowns were deemed necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The tourism industry in Chattanooga generates tax dollars from outside of the city, so a dip in tourist activity delivers an all-encompassing blow.
“Our success and the city’s success go hand in hand.”, said Thom Benson. The Tennessee Aquarium had a $115 million economic impact on Chattanooga and Hamilton County in 2016.
It is projected that the Tennessee Aquarium will see more than a $5 million deficit by the year with attendance down 60% since 2019 (IMAX down 70%).
The Tennessee Aquarium relies on revenue and memberships, and their operating cost is $400,000 a week. Expense spending with no attendance during the 96-day lockdown delivered a financial beating.
According to the Chattanooga Tourism Co., Chattanooga area hotel revenues are down 34%, which is a $52 million drop from 2019.
Thom Benson did note that Chattanooga tourism outperforms many parts of the United States.
To substantiate Mr. Benson’s claim, one can look to Chattanooga’s 50.3% hotel occupancy (YTD as of August) compared to the United States’ 44.4% hotel occupancy.
The recent opening of Hotel Indigo downtown is also an indicator of growing economic confidence.
However, the damage of the pandemic restrictions are likely to follow the hospitality and tourism industry beyond COVID-19.
The true question is if Chattanooga’s hospitality and tourism industry will ever return to the economic performance experienced before the lockdown restrictions.