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Visitors Still Making an Impact in Roane

And How Exactly Do We Compare With Other Counties and Other Observations?

Source: The Roane Alliance

Historically, visitors have spent more money in Roane County year over year, and the beginning of 2020 started out no differently.  Occupancy tax was up 56% during the fall and winter months – but that soon changed. When travel slowed down in March and halted completely by April, we knew visitors were no longer coming. We were certainly not looking forward to seeing the annual 2020 Roane County Travel Snapshot published by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development (TDTD).  So when it came out in August, we learned that yes, occupancy tax and visitor spending in Roane fell; however, we also now know that Roane County fared better than most of the other 95 counties. In fact, visitor spending was higher in Roane than in 67 of the 95 counties and we passed four of those counties by increasing our ranking to 28th highest county from 32nd in 2019. 

So how did COVID-19 affect travel and spending? TDTD reported that $16.8B was spent by visitors traveling through Tennessee, a decrease of 31.6%, according to the information they received from the U.S. Travel Association.  In Roane County, visitor spending was down by 14% – less than ½ of the state’s average; and both Roane and the State fared better than the national average, with a decline of 42%.

So how does that affect our county directly?

(That can be used to recruit even more visitors to spend money locally!)

I think we can all agree that in an unprecedented year when travel practically stopped, Roane County was still able to bring in visitors that made an impact on county services, local commerce and our households.

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Source: Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

Tourism is the 2nd largest industry in Tennessee, according to TDTD.  And its pretty evident that it is also an important industry in Roane County.  It creates jobs in the hospitality industry and puts money in our pockets to help pay taxes we would otherwise have to pay.  It also means more services and money for education from the sales taxes collected, as well as the property taxes paid by hospitality businesses.  It also means that Roane can continue to promote, plan and support those tourism assets that bring visitors here.  For instance – the TN Riverline program that is expanding water assets for kayakers and paddlers; and Roane State’s Expo Center, that benefits directly from occupancy tax to ensure it continues to bring in thousands of vsitors annually and puts “heads in beds.”

The TDTD impact report proves how important tourism is for Roane County.  A couple of things to note – the State is using a different model for their data output so the numbers are different than in past reports from the Roane Alliance.  The new impact report does include historical economic impact back to 2015, allowing us to still compare year over year; however, any data we collected previously, couldn’t be used this year, and in its place, we will use the historical data provided in this report.  In addition, a download of Roane County’s report, as well as the entire TDTD report are provided below.

So, how does Roane compare with our competitive lake and surrounding counties?  This comparison helps determine market share among visitors coming to the area and those interested in outdoor recreation, so it is important to review each year.  And I am happy to report that in 2020 Roane County also fared better than some of our neighbors who saw an even larger decrease in spending and ranking.  Here are all of our contiguous counties, as well as some competitive lake counties, in order of lowest visitor spending to the highest, amount of increase/decrease and their ranking – feel free to compare for yourself.

County/Visitor SpendingChangeNew/Prior Ranking
Morgan $3M+4%90/90
Meigs $7M+1%73/80
Rhea $29M-29%40/39
Jefferson $50M-16%30/33
Roane $51M-14%28/32
Loudon $63M-25%24/23
Campbell $83M+5%20/25
Anderson $118M-25%18/17
Cumberland $124M-29%16/16

There were additional observations from the new data that I think is important when trying to determine market share.  Has Roane’s market share been steady, declined or increased? Looking at this over time, helps gauge the effectiveness of the marketing Roane Alliance does, along with our tourism and municipal partners, as well as the key markets targeted for the advertising and promotions. 

Roane has been compared with Rhea County over the years, and specifically in recent debates over fishing tournaments.  One observation is that visitors consistently spend more in Roane County year-over-year than in Rhea County.   Looking at the historical data from 2015 to 2019, Rhea has experienced about the same increase year-over-year as Roane; so that is good news for both of us.  When you compare the 2020 impact data to 2015, however, Roane has a positive growth, while Rhea has declined by 10%. 

The Roane County Visitors Bureau (RCVB) sponsors fishing tournaments each year, because we know fishermen make up a large portion of our visitors and brings a lot of dollars to our county.  We also have to be smart and spend the tourism budget to make the most impact.  Last year’s funding from the County was $110,000 and we spent around $15,000, or 14% of the total budget, on sponsorships.  Two of those were fishing tournaments, bringing in 170 to 225 boats each – the TN Team Trail and Morristown Team Trail’s Rockin’ the River.  There are several community events that consistently bring in visitors that we also support – like the Smokin’ the Water July 4th Festival and the Tennessee Pirate Fest/Medieval Faire. Partnering with those community events that advertise, allows us both to leverage marketing dollars that helps the events succeed and grow, while also helping RCVB recruit visitors outside the county to visit, and hopefully stay overnight.

I believe the impact report backs up what we have known for awhile –  that spending money to promote all of our assets and outdoor recreation, not just fishing tournaments, makes more sense for Roane County.  I am proud of the marketing efforts the RCVB has been able to accomplish within the budget constraints, and appreciate the partnerships that help in those efforts.  I am thankful for the small businesses and attractions that call Roane County home, and made it through the pandemic in one piece.  And I am excited to continue to build off of the past marketing successes, learn from those that didn’t bring as much impact, and try new ones – all with the primary goal to push Roane County further up the rankings!