Visitor spending generated $1.04 billion in direct economic impact to Williamson County during 2021, according to newly released data from U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics.
That was a 34 percent increase from the previous year and on par with 2018 levels of economic impact. According to data from DK Shifflet, the county welcomed 1.73 million visitors in 2021, a 40.5 percent increase over 2020. Those visitors were spending $2.86 million per day in Williamson County.
The positive growth in economic impact and visitation marks a return to year-over-year growth for tourism's impact on the county. Prior to the COVID-induced downturn in 2020, the tourism industry had grown its positive economic impact on Williamson County for 10 consecutive years, per a release.
Williamson County remained ranked No. 6 of Tennessee's 95 counties based on the economic impact of tourism and was one of six counties across the state to create a positive impact of over $1 billion.
"While our industry was still feeling the effects of COVID on travel to begin 2021, it is encouraging to see the progress our local hotels and hospitality-related businesses have made towards rebound," said Visit Franklin President & CEO Maureen Haley Thornton. "These final numbers from 2021 show that once people were comfortable traveling, Franklin and the communities across Williamson County are where they wanted to visit."
Tourism-related spending generated $55.31 million in state and $34.7 million in local tax revenues in Williamson County. Because of tourism, each household in Williamson County pays $1,111 less in state and local taxes. The hospitality industry in the county also accounted for 7,540 jobs.
Locally within the hospitality industry, hotels and lodging saw the most significant economic impact recovery, jumping 70 percent from 2021. Recreation spending grew 38 percent, retail spending by visitors increased 21 percent, transportation grew 20 percent, and food and beverage saw an economic impact increase of 31 percent over 2021.
The Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau (Visit Franklin) operates from a portion of the local hotel and vacation rentals' lodging taxes collected from visitors. Those collections are then reinvested in sales and marketing efforts to attract the world to Williamson County for leisure travel and sports, meetings, and group business. In 2021, every dollar invested in efforts by Visit Franklin resulted in $387 of positive economic impact on the county. That figure is up from $312 in 2020.
Despite the lingering effects of COVID on the hospitality and tourism industry at the beginning of 2021, the industry's growth locally was boosted by the opening of three more hotels during the year and new signature venues like FirstBank Amphitheater. The outlook for 2022 is also one of continued growth, as four new hotels have already opened in the county this year, along with the upcoming opening of Southall Farm & Inn.
"Throughout 2021,” Thornton added, “our hotels saw strong numbers of leisure travelers, which, in addition to the gradual return of business travelers, meetings, conventions, and events helped our county's recovery. That return to travel is continuing at an optimistic pace in 2022 as well. With the new hotels and venues that opened in 2021 and already this year, plus those opening soon, tourism in our county is poised to continue providing an increased positive economic impact on Williamson County."
The majority portion of funds collected through lodging tax each year is distributed to participating cities for use on tourism-enhancing capital projects that are also beneficial to residents, such as park improvements, and contributed to Williamson County's general fund, where they help offset the expense of county schools, emergency services, road projects, among others.
Economic impact information is determined by the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics, then distributed by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. Values represent the direct impact of spending, labor income, employment, and taxes for domestic and international travel.