Learn how a record of number of visitors to Rutherford County hotels in 2016 fueled a growing convention market.
Rutherford County is increasingly sharing the tourism stage with its Music City neighbor of Nashville. A record of number of visitors spent the night in Rutherford County in 2016, fueled in part by a growing market for conventions, conferences and sporting events.
There were nearly 1.1 million room nights sold in Rutherford County in 2016, and room revenue increased nearly $10 million over 2015, says Barbara Wolke, senior vice president with the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“We feature over 4,000 hotel rooms and 375 restaurants in Rutherford County, so we have the facilities,” Wolke says. “And our location is very appealing. We receive a lot of overflow from Nashville (approximately 30 miles away), bringing in thousands of visitors who stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants and shop in our retail stores.”
Rutherford County has gained a reputation as a premier convention location. In fact, ConventionSouth magazine, a national multimedia resource for planning events in the South, bestowed the CVB with a 2016 Readers’ Choice Award as one of the top convention destinations. It is the fourth consecutive year that Rutherford County has received this honor.
“This prestigious recognition comes from the top meeting professionals in the U.S. who hold events in the South,” ConventionSouth Publisher Talty O’Connor says. “These planners demand the highest level of customer service and quality facilities, and they have contributed in determining that Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau indeed displays the commitment to professionalism, creativity and service that they require.”
The increase in convention traffic has continued in 2017. For example, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Murfreesboro had an 80 percent increase in conferences and events in February 2017 compared to a year earlier, says Pamela Little, regional director of sales.
“The continued growth in Rutherford County is creating business travelers for all our hotels,” Little says. “Plus, Nashville didn’t have enough (hotel) supply this past year, so it pushed out all the accommodations to our county, and we reaped the benefits of overnight stays.”
Sports Capital of Tennessee
Tourism traffic also is being driven by the wide world of sporting events that take place in Rutherford County each year. Among the biggest are the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Championships in basketball and several other sports, as well as the TSSAA Spring Fling, an Olympic-style tournament in track-and-field, baseball, softball, soccer and tennis.
Wolke says these TSSAA events alone will bring in an estimated $33 million to Rutherford County’s economy over the next five years.
National events taking place in Rutherford County in 2017 include the Cynosports World Games (a dog-agility tournament held at Tennessee Miller Coliseum that will bring approximately 5,000 people to the area) and the United States Adult Soccer Association Soccer Fest, expected to attract approximately 2,700 participants to compete at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
Athletic facilities such as the Siegel Soccer Complex, which has 15 fields spread over 130 acres, are a big reason why Rutherford County is able to entice so many sports events to the area. Middle Tennessee State University has venues capable of hosting tournaments in a number of sports, including at the new Adams Tennis Complex, a 70,000-square-foot facility with eight indoor courts.
“We have some of the best sports facilities in the state,” Little said. “We have multiple tournaments held here, and it’s directly related to the venues in the county. And that results in people staying overnight who probably wouldn’t otherwise.”
In addition, Rutherford County boasts several smaller meeting and event spaces, including the Gateway Island Reception Center and The Warehouse, a 6,000-square-foot facility that has doubled in size since opening in 2010 in order to handle the ever-increasing demand.
“Smaller venues like ours are fantastic because they’re able to fill those gaps when those big conventions fill up all the other spots,” Warehouse owner Becky Lanham says. “That’s one of the things that’s great about Rutherford County. People can have their regular meetings at the hotels and convention center. But if they want to have a little after-party for some of their attendees, they have a number of off-site options.
“And when one of us is booked, we’ll refer people to some of the other places. There’s so much business coming in that there’s plenty to go around.”