JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) Summer sports tournaments are a seasonal tradition for many families and travel is something parents come to expect. When the pandemic pressed pause on competition, it did not just hurt the athletes but local businesses as well.
The return of youth sports tournaments means these fields will no longer be left collecting dust, which is a home run for local businesses after 2020 cancellations took their toll.
“Travel stopped. Therefore everything we had on the books was postponed,” said Brenda Whitson, executive director of the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After a summer-long hiatus, youth sports tournaments are back and they are a huge economic driver. The “Future Stars of Sports” softball tournament is bringing 100 teams into Johnson City from across the country.
“They will come in here and play for four days and they will leave an economic impact in direct spending of over 2.5 million,” said Whitson.
Then, the upcoming USA 14 and under Softball National Championship and a professional disc golf tournament are expected to bring in another estimated 6 million dollars.
“As far as the city of Johnson City, it’s sales tax collection, it’s lodging tax collection. Those dollars help the city to provide funding for essential services,” said Whitson.
As these tournaments bounce back, local businesses, stores and restaurants will see a much-needed boost in revenue. Hotels stand to see some of the greatest benefits as local travel gets back to normal.
“It’s encouraging, it’s good to see our hotels filling up,” said Jill Garrett, director of sales for the Johnson City Courtyard Marriott.
She says the pandemic’s impact on hotels financially was unprecedented.
“Knowing that we are back on track with those events coming back to the area, it’s very refreshing for us. we are seeing recoup of some of the lost revenue from the last year,” said Garrett.
Beyond just the dollar, the return of tournaments is a chance to showcase our region.
“Who knows, they may decide to move here, they may move a business here. You just never know what they experience that they have while they are here what is it going to mean in the long term,” said Whitson.
By the numbers
COVID-19 delivered a crushing blow to the hospitality industry and the Johnson City area wasn’t immune.
Lodging tax and occupancy figures shared by the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau show that after barely showing a pulse in the spring and summer of 2020 and limping through last fall and winter, the sector saw a sharp bounce back this spring.
How bad was it? Local hotels brought in $1,762,297 in February 2020 — an 8 percent gain over February 2019 after a 9.5 percent increase in January. In mid-March, the bottom fell out and March revenues of $1,323,833 were 38 percent below the previous year’s total.
It only got worse. The nadir came in April, when revenues didn’t quite crack the $700,000 mark and were just 26 percent of the April 2019 mark of $2.7 million. Things rebounded slightly in May, but revenues of $1.1 million were still less than half the previous May’s total.
Numbers crept up agonizingly slowly, but revenues for September-December averaged 86 percent of the prior year. Still, by year’s end, the $20.5 million in lodging revenues represented a 30 percent drop from 2019.
The CVB’s hotel occupancy and room rate data showed similar hits.
Where occupancy had averaged 60.8% for all of 2019, it fell to 44.8% for 2020. Hoteliers dropped their average room rate to $78.71 from $85.07, leaving the revenue per average room at $35.26 — a 32 percent decline from 2019’s $51.73.
Tax revenues were off by about $600,000. The city generally bases its allocation to the CVB on those revenues, but commissioners opted to maintain the 2019 allocation in 2020, acknowledging that cutting it would put the CVB on the back foot when the travel economy recovered.
By the new year, things were bumping along at about 86 percent of those strong January-February 2020 levels. But as COVID case numbers plunged in early March to levels not seen since July 2020, the floodgates opened.
March revenues were $3,157,634 — well more than double the 2020 figure, about 50 percent higher than March 2019 and the second-highest monthly total since the beginning of 2019. Only August 2019’s $3.4 million was better.
April’s total, though lower at $2.7 million, was higher than any single month in 2020 and just a hair above the April 2019 total.
That meant that through April, lodging revenues were running 10 percent ahead of the same period of 2019.
Occupancy and room rate reports, which were complete through May, showed similar positive trends.
Occupancy was 53.2% for the first five months of 2021, up from 38.1% for the same period of 2020. Average daily rate was back to $86.91, and revenue per average room of $46.23 was 62 percent higher than 2020’s year to date average of $28.45.
That revenue per average room was just slightly below the full-year 2019 average of $51.73.