Experts Question Tennessee’s Claim of Spending $24.2 Billion in 2021 Tourism

by Jon Styf


Tennessee’s Department of Tourism is touting a report saying that the state brought in a record $24.2 billion in tourism spending in 2021.

That number came from a report commissioned and paid for by the department and completed by a company called Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of another company named Oxford Economics whose purpose is to conduct these reports for clients.

Those numbers, however, don’t always add up, according to economist J.C. Bradbury of Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

“I don’t put much stock in any commissioned economic impact reports,” Bradbury said. “I think it’s important to be skeptical of any for-hire economic impact report that is commissioned by a tourism agency that has an interest in showing a large impact from tourism.”

The report claimed that visitors spend $66 million per day in the state and that visitor spending led to $1.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2021.

For comparison, Tennessee collected $12.9 billion in total sales and use taxes for the fiscal year that ended in July.

The report also included county-by-county numbers for visitor spending, with Davidson County leading the way at $12.3 billion of “total economic impact” and $248 million of direct visitor spending.

Sevier County was second with $117.4 million in direct spending with Shelby County at $109.7 million while Shelby was listed with $5.6 billion of total economic impact and Sevier with $5.4 billion.

The report will be handed out to attendees at the Governor’s Conference on Hospitality & Tourism from Sept. 28-30 in Memphis.

Tourism drives economic development and job creation so that every Tennessean can thrive,” Gov. Lee said in a statement about the report. “Our decision to prioritize strong recovery has yielded record levels of tourism growth, and we continue to welcome visitors to see all Tennessee has to offer, from the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains.”

Last June, Lee was criticized for the $2.5 million spent on a “Tennessee on Me” tourism initiative, which awarded $250 airline vouchers to those who booked hotel stays through the state website at a designated hotel in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville or Chattanooga.

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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Styf is a reporter for The Center Square. 
Photo “Tennessee Aquarium” by Frank Kehren. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.





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2 Thoughts to “Experts Question Tennessee’s Claim of Spending $24.2 Billion in 2021 Tourism”

  1. Aries9899

    The TN GOPe and Gov Lee don’t care what Tennessean’s think. They just want their payout and they always get their slice of the pie in government deals like this.

    Remember, they increased the budget by 25% in one year!

    1. 83ragtop50

      9899 – Well said.