Tourism in Tennessee outpaces the nation with $22 billion in travel spending and 119 million visitors in 2018

Dollywood's Wildwood Grove Expansion is one of the projects fueling economic growth in the state.

Gov. Lee announces record-breaking economic impact

NASHVILLE – Tennessee saw 119 million domestic visitors in 2018, up 5.1% from 113 million the previous year and hit a record-high $22 billion in domestic and international travel spending. Travelers in Tennessee spend an estimated $60 million per day. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell made the announcement at the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Tennessee’s growth is outpacing the nation in all areas of travel; including tax revenue, expenditures, payroll and employment.

Tourism generated over $50 million in new state and local tax dollars in 2018, approximately $25 million of which supports public education. The report’s findings also show tourism’s value to Tennessee taxpayers. Travel in Tennessee generated 189,757 jobs and $1.81 billion in state and local tax revenue. Without tourism, each Tennessee household would have to pay an additional $712 in taxes each year. Those tax dollars support education, health and human services, public safety, business and economic development.

In 2018, Tennessee ranked number three, after Pennsylvania and Colorado, for international spending growth over 2017, according to Tourism Economics. International spending growth in Tennessee is seven times the national average.

“From our thriving cities to our beautiful rural landscapes and everything in between, Tennessee has solidified its place as a leader in tourism across the country,” Lee said. “Our booming tourism sector is outpacing the nation in every category. World-class food, music, and adventure are just a few things folks find when they come to Tennessee, and thankfully, folks are visiting this remarkable place more than ever.”

“Tennessee’s diverse cities and small towns offer quality tourism products and remarkable brands that drive visitation,” said Ezell. “We would not have these numbers if it weren’t for renovations, capital investments and passion shown by tourism partners across the state. The record-breaking millions who come here discover the music, history and culture, family experiences and scenic beauty that make Tennessee ‘The Soundtrack of America.’”

Highlights of the report include:

  • $22.02 Billion Travel Expenditures, 6% increase (Source: U.S. Travel Association)
  • Growth rate was 20% more than the national average of 4.9%
  • Travelers in Tennessee spend an estimated $60 million per day.
  • 119.37 Million Domestic Visitors, up 5.1% from 113 Million in 2018, the highest growth in the past 6 years. 
    • Record Setting – 81.3% of visitors were leisure travelers, an increase of 5.5%
    • Daily spending per person – $128 (Source: D.K. Shifflet & Associates)
  • Tourism generated 189,757 jobs for Tennesseans, a 2.9% percent growth year over year.
  • Travel in Tennessee generated $1.81 billion in state and local tax revenue. (Source: U.S. Travel Association)
  • Travel generated tax revenue results in $712 in annual state and local tax savings for the average Tennessee household (Source: U.S. Travel Association, U.S. Census Bureau)
  • Travel and Tourism is the state’s second largest industry by employment (Source: U.S. Travel Association)
  • In 2018, Tennessee ranked number three, after Pennsylvania and Colorado, for international spending growth over 2017 (Source: Tourism Economics)
  • International spending growth is seven times the national average. 
  • 5.4% TN vs 0.8% U.S.
  • All 95 counties saw an increase in domestic travel spending
  • Each county saw more than $1 million in direct travel expenditures in the economic impact of tourism. (Source: U.S. Travel Association)

In response to Gov. Lee’s first executive order to better serve rural Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development received state budget funding to create the Office of Rural Tourism and Outreach, led by Assistant Commissioner Melanie Beauchamp. The new office will provide outreach and resources specifically to help at-risk and distressed counties. 

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development works with the Tennessee Tourism Committee, local convention and visitors’ bureaus, chambers of commerce, city and county leaders, tourism attractions and the hospitality industry in all 95 counties to help bring travelers to the state.

To view the full report, click here. County-by-county snapshots will be shared at the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association’s Governor’s Conference in Nashville September 4-6. For more information, contact Jill Kilgore, public relations media manager for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, at 615-927-1320 or by email at

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