Shannon Maltby 0000-00-00 00:00:00
This scenario is a pretty typical weekend getaway for regional travelers to Memphis. But before it’s chalked up as just a couple enjoying a weekend out on the town, don’t underestimate the impact the visit — and thousands like it that occur every year — has on the Memphis economy. Each one of the couple’s stops — attractions, souvenir shops, restaurants, the hotel, FedExForum, a parking garage, gas station, grocery store — left a small but significant financial footprint. The tourism industry makes a large monetary impact on the Memphis economy. Visitors spend $3.1 billion annually, translating to $131.3 million in local and state taxes, according to an economic impact study by the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, the official marketing and tourism organization for Memphis and Shelby County. That impact includes nearly 53,000 tourism and hospitality jobs with a $2 billion payroll. “We’re a $3.1 billion industry,” says Kevin Kane, who as president and CEO of the MCVB knows a thing or two about tourism in the Bluff City. “We have a strong impact on quality-of-life issues for citizens. We do so many things that give local residents options to participate, and obviously, those things improve what our community has to offer. And clearly, visitor expenditures generate hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental taxes that are very important economically to the overall well-being of the Memphis and Shelby County economy.” Unfortunately, that impact might be altered this year and possibly for some time to come. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs since the worldwide recession began more than a year ago. Many were forced to cut back as they figured out how to make ends meet with less income. And that surely means less travel. But while the economy has turned south, there are still some positive things for the local tourism industry. “The good news is it will be a record year for conventions and large meetings at the Memphis Cook Convention Center,” Kane says. “We’re fortunate that things are booked two, three, four years in advance. It just so happened that for 2009, the calendar was very busy for us. Things fell into place, and we need it.” It’s needed because while the convention industry in Memphis will be rolling right along, it makes up only a small percentage of the total tourism pie in the Midsouth. In Memphis and Shelby County, the convention and large-meeting market constitutes just 15 percent of hotel occupancies. And Kane knows that the worldwide economic recession will be a challenge in the months ahead. All those corporations — big and small — that have been laying off workers and cutting back on unnecessary expenditures are sure to slice into the number of business trips made. “The majority of city and county hotel occupancies are from the basic business corporate traveler,” says Kane. “That business is down drastically year to date, and that’s where we’re taking a big hit. With that accounting for almost half of our traditional occupied rooms throughout the county, when it takes a hit, it has a severe impact on hotel occupancies. The corporate business daily traveler is very important to the overall health of the hotel industry in the city. Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over that. It’s a function of the economy. Nevertheless, it is what it is, and we’ve got to work around that.” Working around that begins at the pump. Last year was a tough travel period, Kane notes, because of the high gas prices. Many travelers chose not to take a trip or reduced the distance to a destination or the amount of time spent there. But thanks to gas prices that have in recent months been sometimes half of what they were last summer, there is hope. “Last summer, no one wanted to admit we were in a recession,” says Kane. “But last summer, we were already in a recession and it was starting to hit us. It was a subtle downturn, and people were already beginning to behave like we were in a recession. Unfortunately, a lot of that will continue in 2009. Yes, fuel prices will be lower, and hopefully people will take some weekend getaways even if they don’t want to take a big vacation. We hope we’re positioned with our great events throughout the summer to take advantage of that. All we can do is keep marketing and pushing and coming up with various things we can do to make our destination as attractive as possible — and we have a very attractive destination to begin with.” Memphis has a strong appeal to visitors from outside the South, too — and Outside the U.S., for that matter. For Memphis tourism, the worldwide part of the economic downfall could be an issue because a large number of foreigners travel to the Bluff City every year. In 2007, European visitors to Memphis made an economic impact in excess of $30 million. And it’s not just Europe, Kane says. Shelby County receives a strong contingent of travelers from Canada and has a growing market in Asia. And though some Memphians might be surprised to meet a British couple walking around the streets Downtown during the sweltering August heat, Memphis is indeed an international destination. “Because of our music branding, we’re a very recognizable destination,” says Kane. “When you have icons like Elvis and blues and a lot of the things we can boast about, we tend to do well with the international traveler. That’s a strong market for us, and we hope it continues.” For the average Memphian outside the tourism industry, the numbers can be surprising. “More than nine million people come here from all over the world on an annual basis,” Kane says. “So on any given day, there are tens of thousands of people within our community eating in our restaurants, shopping in our shopping malls, visiting our museums and attractions, and staying in our hotels. And almost all of those people spend money while they’re here, which has a tremendous impact on the overall health and well-being of our community. Tourism supports a lot of the basic initiatives that a lot of us who live here enjoy. “People have options and people have choices, and this industry is very competitive because it’s very lucrative,” he continues. “Because of that, we are constantly trying to put our best foot forward, sell our assets, and make this destination as strong as we can possibly make it.” Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 47 Union, 543-5300, memphistravel. Com.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
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