|By Brittany Cofer, Chattanooga Times Free
Press, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September. 29, 2010 --Economic slump?
Not for Chattanooga's $762 million tourism industry so far this year.
While other Southeastern tourist destinations experienced drops in annual visitation varying from 8 percent to 18 percent, the Scenic City held its own with "a pretty strong showing," said Bob Doak, president and chief executive of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It has become very apparent that Chattanooga has developed over the years a product that visitors from all over the world find very appealing," Doak said.
Hotel room tax revenue -- one indicator of tourism's health -- was up by double-digit increases -- as much as 28 percent in July -- for six of eight months so far in 2010, Doak said Tuesday during the bureau's 69th annual meeting.
Doak credited three factors with Chattanooga's robust showing at a time when competitor markets such as Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham experienced sharp declines.
"We've got an incredible product, we've got great people and we continue to advertise and promote," he said.
Parts of that "product" include the area's attractions, scenic appeal and recreational opportunities.
Attractions such as the Tennessee Aquarium, Ruby Falls, Rock City Gardens and Chattanooga Zoo all experienced surges in regional travel this year, mostly from major metropolitan areas within a 200-mile radius, including visitors from Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville, tourism officials said.
Hotels, too, felt the effects of additional regional visitors with an influx of corporate travelers bolstered by companies such as Volkswagen and Alstom, said Andrea Anderson, president of the Chattanooga Hospitality Association.
"As far as corporate travel, there are a lot of industries being developed here," she said. "A lot of interest piqued for our market."
The uncommonly hot weather in late summer both helped and hindered some of Chattanooga's major tourist attractions.
For outdoor attraction Rock City, the combination of warm weather and a revamped marketing message geared toward out-of-towners made the summer season a success, said Andrew Kean, president and chief operating officer.
The intense heat had the opposite effect on the Chattanooga Zoo, which experienced decreases in both July and August, although year-to-date attendance is up from 2009.
The Tennessee Aquarium also saw a drop-off toward the end of the summer season, though spokesman Thom Benson attributed the decrease to cash-strapped consumers.
One way to keep a stronghold on ground already covered is to delay the off-season as long as possible, local tourism officials said.
Area attractions have been devising ways to extend their peak season, with many able to whittle the off-season to just two months: January and February.
Darde Long, executive director of the zoo, said she has tried to tap into the off-season by creating indoor areas that are heated and cooled to provide respite from the outside weather conditions.
At Rock City, a calendar packed with various festivals and other entertainment options extends its season through December, Kean said.
As tourism officials look forward to the coming year, they're hopeful for growth.
Hugh Morrow Jr., president of Ruby Falls, said he is hoping for "a rebound in the nature of 1 to 3 percent" in 2011. Officials for other attractions anticipate to either remain flat or increase slightly.
Doak said the city will continue to ramp up promotional efforts in the coming year, using avenues such as social networking, Internet advertising and public relations to convey the message that Chattanooga is the place to see in the Southeast.
Contact Brittany Cofer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.
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