First Friday in Knoxville could mark the beginning of a comeback for tourism

Tourism: 2021 & Moving Forward

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — First Friday was back in Knoxville on Feb. 5. City leaders said COVID-19 protocols would be in place for any city events in the foreseeable future.

Almost one year after the virus made its way to Knoxville city leaders were still adjusting to life during a pandemic. 2019 was a record year then 2020 came barreling through with COVID-19.

Still, leaders have reason to believe the future may bring more record breaking tourism.

Visit Knoxville President Kim Bumpas painted a bright future for the city from the brightest spot in the city during a Zoom inverview. Bumpas used a view atop the Sunsphere as her digital Zoom background.

“I’m sitting on the Sunsphere and it’s very chilly up here,” Bumpas said.

“We had a really great year in 19,” she recalled.

You see, Bumpas can see the past and the future.

2019 brought the Bassmaster Classic with the highest attendance number in history. It also brought 2 million hotel rooms sold and more than $1 billion in tourism spending.

Then came 2020. Shops, restaurants, and events were shut down.

“I guess that was good because it was laying the foundation of almost getting emotionally prepared for what we didn’t know was going to happen, which was COVID,” Bumpas recalled.

Scruffy City sound were silenced. It left us with the sound of nature. The natural beauty of our area we never could have known would save us.

“We had a lot to offer a COVID experience if that makes sense because we’re so outdoor oriented,” she said.

Hotel occupancy dropped to about 1.5 million rooms sold and while tourism dollars left, CARES Act funding came.

“The state did ‘For the Love of Tennessee Travel Safe (marketing campaign),’ so we did for the Love of Knoxville travel safe, and it was like for the love of Knoxville wear a mask. For the love of Knoxville stay physically distanced, and while that was very strange to have to compile, it was very effective,” she explained.

Cities like Nashville saw a 60% drop in tourism, but Knoxville averaged a decline of just 25%.

Now, open signs pop up in the distance and music is whirling it’s way back into downtown muffled by construction. More than 115 events have been moved to future years.

“2021 towards the end and 2022 and 2023 are going to be like off the charts. We’re going to bounce back much quicker than anyone is anticipating,” Bumpas said.

The Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament is scheduled for this month.

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