‘We are moving in the right direction’: City leaders optimistic about Nashville outlook after COVID

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – “We are moving in the right direction.”

That was the message Thursday from city leaders meeting to discuss recovery efforts and what they hope greater Nashville looks like post-pandemic.

For a true recovery to work Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation (NCVC), says there are several pieces and communities that need to come together and that we’re about half way there.

At the Nashville Palace, Spyrido updated Donelson/Hermitage Chamber of Commerce on our post-COVID recovery strategy.

“We’re ready for the summer season to get rolling,” he said.

From the looks and sounds of lower Broadway, we’re rockin’ it, though Spyridon said we need to look at the big picture.

“Everybody puts tourism for Nashville downtown,” Spyridon said. “It is so much bigger than that. Look at the Opry house, the Hermitage, the Opry itself, water park, airport, there’s probably as many hotels as there are downtown [in Hermitage/Donelson] so it is significant on every level imaginable. If this doesn’t work, we don’t recover.”

The good news is Donelson and Hermitage are rockin’, too, and country music star Jeanne Seely is thrilled.

“We’ve had standing room only ticket sales at the Grand Ole Opry two weekends in a row; even on Tuesday night they are coming back,” Seely said.

Terri Williams Nutter, the executive director of the Donelson/Hermitage Chamber of Commerce said restaurants there are bustling.

“There are 45 minute waits at many of the restaurants on the weekend,” Nutter said. “That is incredible to see for our economy and the folks that live here and work here.”

It all sounds great, but Spyridon stresses we are not back to where we were in 2019, and to grasp where we stand now we have to remember how far we fell.

In 2019, the NCVC says we set a record of visitor spending at $7.5 billion. COVID hit and we lost $4.5 billion in direct visitor spending.

“It’s not a light switch. We’re all struggling to find employees. Hotel occupancy citywide is at 58 percent, so that doesn’t really pay the bills,” Spyridon said.

Thankfully, Nashville is predicted as a top market for the fastest hotel demand recovery.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” Spyridon said. “We’re ahead of the competition and we still have a way to go.”

Nashville needs conventions and business travel to come back. NCVC says it makes up 60 percent of our business, while leisure travel only makes up 40 percent.

“We start conventions literally moving in today, so that’s the next piece for us,” Spyridon said. “It’ll be slow in the summer, then we wait on business travel to come back.”

The Southern Baptists are the first major convention at Music City Center with a handful to follow. Spyridon says it’s a step in the right direction.

With our Fourth of July celebration and upcoming trifecta of racing, our future is bright. Spyridon hopes we’re back to 2019 levels by summer ’22.

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