New data released Sept. 7 by Visit Franklin shows the county saw a decline in tourism revenue for the first time in 10 years. During 2020, the county brought in $775.97 million in visitor spending, a more than 30% decrease from the $1.12 billion brought in during 2019, according to the tourism organization. In previous years, the county had consistently broken its own revenue records.
“We all know that 2020 was a difficult year for so many, and the hospitality industry specifically took a tremendous hit,” Visit Franklin President and CEO Maureen Haley Thornton said in a release. “These final numbers from 2020 reflect that, but I am also thankful to the local community. They supported our local businesses, booked staycations and visited attractions across the county that employ so many. That local support boosted our hospitality community during a very difficult time.”
According to Visit Franklin, much of the decrease in spending can be attributed to the decrease in visitors overall. In 2020, about 1.23 million visitors came through Williamson County. That number is down about 32% from the 1.81 million who visited in 2019.
During the pandemic, many businesses in the hospitality industry were hit hardest, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In addition to layoffs and closures caused by the pandemic, revenue for those businesses took a hit as well. In Williamson County, hotels and lodging took the largest financial hit, seeing a 51% decline in revenue from 2019, according to Visit Franklin. Retail spending saw a 29.1% decline, and food and beverage spending went down by just over 20%.
However, Thornton said 2021 may see higher revenues as travelers return to the area, although the bureau is encouraging caution in light of fluctuating COVID-19 cases numbers.
“As we have seen travel begin its return this year, we, along with our hospitality partners around the county, remain vigilant of the ever-changing climate around COVID-19 variants," Thornton said. "We will continue to highlight Williamson County as a safe destination to domestic travelers, and when the time is right to our international visitors as well.”