Memphis’ hospitality and tourism industry experienced a bounce-back 2021 with the city’s hotel occupancy rate and total visitors returning to near pre-pandemic figures, according to Memphis Tourism’s annual report.
The nonprofit organization often touts 2019 as a record year for the local industry. Then in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered that promising trajectory for hospitality and tourism due to restrictions that decreased national and international visitation.
In addition to the usual tourist draws like Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, 2021 also saw the return of a scaled-back Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
While COVID-19 restrictions remained in place for large parts of 2021, the availability of vaccines and loosening of local restrictions, along with other factors, saw the optimism from the end of 2019 return for those in hospitality and tourism.
“Everybody saw the dramatic impact and how important the visitor economy is to a community,” Memphis Tourism CEO Kevin Kane said. “Everybody is really anxious to get that back as soon as they can.”
Here are four takeaways from Memphis Tourism’s 2021 annual report released June 23.
How many hotel rooms were sold in Shelby County in 2021?
More than 4.1 million hotel rooms were sold in Shelby County, or about 93% of the total hotel demand from 2019. Memphis outpaced the national average by about 5%, according to the report.
Kane credited the increase to the return of leisure travel and diversity of options Memphis provides potential tourists.
“I think it’s good for Memphis, because so much of our (hotel) occupancy was corporate transient, so when that does come back, we’re going to be in really good shape if we can keep this leisure travel surge going the way it’s going,” he said.
How many people visited Memphis in 2021?
More than 10.7 million people visited the Memphis-metro in 2021, according to Memphis Tourism. About 12.4 million people visited the Memphis area in 2019, by comparison.
How long did those tourists stay in Memphis in 2021?
The average trip duration for a travel party to the area surpassed the three-night threshold (3.12 days) — a 33% increase from 2019. A travel party on average spent about $742 each night in Memphis.
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Where did those Memphis tourists travel from?
About 34% of Memphis tourists came from outside the region, according to Memphis Tourism. Of the top 10 national markets with at least 45,000 visits, Dallas ranked as the highest volume origin market. Chicago, Houston, New York and Los Angeles rounded out the top five.
The largest percentage of tourists, 38%, came from within the region. Of the top 10 regional markets with at least 60,000 visits, nearby Nashville was the highest volume origin market. Other cities in the top five include Little Rock; Greenwood, Arkansas; Paducah, Kentucky; and Atlanta.
The remaining 28% of travelers are classified as “proximity arrivals.” That area includes Jackson, Tennessee, the surrounding Memphis media market, Jonesboro and Columbus-Tupelo, Mississippi.
“I’ll say it’s pretty standard,” Kane said on traveler origins. “In the last year and a half, we have really advertised (ourselves as) an easy drive market (with a) 600-mile radius. A pretty big radius. Go past Atlanta, Houston, into North Carolina and past Chicago. 600 miles is a pretty big geographic territory, but it has really paid off for us.”
Omer Yusuf covers the Ford project in Haywood County, residential real estate, tourism and banking for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached via email Omer.Yusuf@commercialappeal.com or followed on Twitter @OmerAYusuf.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis tourism: How many people visited the city in 2021?