Tourism in Tennessee Shattered Records in 2019

August 25, 2020


Report Shows Tourism is Vital to Restoring State’s Economic Recovery


Recently released numbers from U.S. Travel Association show tourism in Tennessee hit a record-high $23 billion in domestic and international travel spending in 2019, marking a decade of consecutive growth. Tennessee also saw 126 million domestic person stays in 2019, up 5.7 percent from 119 million the previous year. Tennessee tourism was on a record track in the first three months of 2020 before COVID-19. The Coronavirus pandemic is the largest crisis to hit the travel, leisure and hospitality industries in history, shutting down almost all travel activities and threatening the security of businesses and employees the industry supports.

“Tennessee is a world-renowned destination, and I look forward to the time when we can gather together again at our festivals, sporting events and more,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Tourism is our state’s second largest industry. Coming off another record year, this data underscores the tremendous positive tourism impact on our state’s revenue. As we’ve seen now more than ever, travel and tourism are vital to restoring economic health and recovery in Tennessee.”


In 2019, Tennessee outpaced the nation in all areas of travel; including tax revenue, expenditures, payroll and employment. The leisure and hospitality industry produced more jobs than any other industry. Last year, travelers in Tennessee spent an estimated $64 million per day. Tourism generated over $75 million in new state and local tax dollars in 2019, approximately half of which directly supports public education. Those tax dollars also support public safety, health and human services, business and economic development. Travel in Tennessee generated 195,000 jobs and $1.92 billion in state and local tax revenue. Revenue generated saved each household in the state $748 in taxes, an increased savings of almost $40 compared to 2018.

These numbers reflect tourism’s significant impact prior to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. U.S. Travel Association predicts the travel economy in Tennessee could see a 35-45% decline in 2020 from 2019.


“With our businesses taking the Tennessee Pledge, our restaurants, businesses and attractions are ready for safe travel,” said Commissioner Mark Ezell, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “I encourage travelers to safely explore, support local businesses and attractions, create family memories, discover outdoor scenic beauty where social distancing is a natural, take road trips, explore rural destinations and hidden gems that drive visitation. Our goal is to become the best non-beach tourism state in America. We’re constantly exploring new opportunities to inspire growth across the state, drive jobs and economic growth, including in rural, at-risk and distressed counties.”

“Tourism is a significant economic driver for our state; ensuring we are able to maintain a safe environment for both visitors and residents is necessary to the livelihoods of the many people who depend on this industry,” said Craig Ross, Chairman of Tennessee Tourism Committee and President of Dollywood.

Madison county increased in the following categories:

  • Overall growth of Tourism expenditures is 5.46% placing Madison county 6th in the state for growth behind 1) Davidson 2) Sevier 3) Rhea 4) Dyer 5) Anderson
  • Tourism expenditures to $226.55 (Million) from $214.83 (Million) - 12th in Tennessee
  • Payroll $47.28 (Million) from $45.49 (Million) – 11th in Tennessee
  • Employment 1,930 from 1,890 – 11th in Tennessee (was 12th)
  • State Tax Receipts $13.62 (Million) from $12.82 (Million) – 12th in Tennessee
  • Local Tax Receipts $4.8 (Million) from $4.37 (Million) – 11th in Tennessee (was 12th)

Madison county’s Destination Marketing Organization Lori Nunnery said, “We are proud of the hospitality and tourism efforts to grow the industry locally.  Being 6th in the state for Tourism expenditure growth is good for business and saves our local households nearly $500 annually in taxes.   Additionally, it attracts new businesses like Great Wolf Lodge to Jackson.”

“The support of the City of Jackson and Madison County has been instrumental in allowing our office to grow and better serve the hospitality industry.  We also appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with our many partners including the Jackson Chamber.  Although 2020 is a challenging year for our industry, we are looking to the future,“ said Nunnery.

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development received $25 million in CARES Act funding to remarket the severely devastated industry to aid in its recovery, promote safety and inspire responsible travel. Funding will be used to demonstrate how travelers can safely enjoy activities and attractions; promote outdoor activities; a campaign with messaging around masks, social distancing and sanitization; and safety messaging, digital screens and infrastructure at all 16 Tennessee Welcome Centers. $15 million in grants is available for Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) in all 95 counties. Additional funding will support Tennessee State Parks and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.


To view the full report, click here. Additional highlights and images for media can be found here. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development works with the Tennessee Tourism Committee, local convention and visitors’ bureaus, chambers of commerce, city and county leaders, tourism attractions and the hospitality industries in all 95 counties to inspire travel to the state.


Tennessee is the home of the blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, soul, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll— delivering an unparalleled experience of beauty, history, and family adventure, infused with music, that creates a vacation that is the “Soundtrack of America. Made in Tennessee.”   Explore more at and join other Tennessee travelers by following “TNVacation” on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, and “Tennessee” on Snapchat.