By MATTHEW LANE
KINGSPORT — All things considered, Visit Kingsport had a good year in 2020 by hosting a number of collegiate sporting events, opening the region’s first Miracle Field, and ramping up the marketing to help bring people to the Model City.
Hotel/motel tax collections (the tax imposed on rented rooms in Kingsport) were down about 30% compared to 2019, but according to the latest projections, the third and fourth quarters of 2021 are expected to be strong again.
And speaking of 2021, Visit Kingsport has three options in mind when it comes to hosting Fun Fest: normal, hybrid and virtual.
This was some of the information provided to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week by Jud Teague, Visit Kingsport executive director.
Visit Kingsport is an arm of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and oversees tourism-related events for the city, including sports tournaments, Fun Fest, the Twilight Alive concert series and Racks by the Tracks.
SPORTING EVENTS AND TOURNAMENTS
According to Teague, the sporting events hosted by Visit Kingsport during 2020 had an economic impact of more than $12 million. The events included:
• Seven college conference championships.
• Twenty-plus youth sports events.
• The NAIA “The Show” collegiate basketball tournament.
In a typical year, Visit Kingsport will host 30 sporting events, generating $20 to $30 million in economic impact for the city. Teague said there are 30 such events on the calendar for 2021, a possible sign of things returning to normal in the sports tournament world.
MEETINGS AND GROUP SALES
Visit Kingsport also assists various companies and organizations all across the country to host meetings, banquets and special events in Kingsport. These meetings and group sales in a typical year usually number in the 30s and 40s.
In 2020, Visit Kingsport assisted nine groups, accounting for 2,500 room nights. These groups had a direct economic impact of $1.2 million and an indirect economic impact of $2.6 million.
“We’ve booked 18 groups this year. If we can get 20 to 30, we’re a good step back,” Teague said. “A lot of businesses are still concerned about allowing employees to travel, and Zoom is going to hurt our group sales in the future. Still, a lot of business has to be conducted face to face in the future.”
OPTIONS FOR FUN FEST
Like everything else, Fun Fest did not happen in the traditional sense last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit Kingsport hosted some virtual events, the Taste was done via takeout and “Un Fest” shirts were sold instead of the traditional Fun Fest ones.
This year, however, with more and more people being vaccinated, Visit Kingsport is exploring three options for the 40th anniversary of Fun Fest: having the week-long event return to normal, having a hybrid event, or keeping it all-virtual like last year.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to have Fun Fest, and the preferred one is where things are somewhat normal,” Teague said.
While a normal event is self-explanatory, Teague said a hybrid model would be mostly virtual with certain events allowing people, but maybe at a reduced number. Instead of 5,000 people at a concert, you could have 500 and broadcast it live over social media.
Instead of a normal parade, Kingsport could have a virtual parade or a reverse parade where entries line up down Center Street and people drive by. With The Taste, curbside service is always an option.
There is no timeline on when a final decision on Fun Fest will be made.
“It all depends on what happens in the next six weeks. If the vaccine starts to roll out more, that’s a good thing,” Teague said. “We’re just hoping for some type of normalcy where people can attend events. Obviously, we’ll have protocols no matter what, and I don’t think we’ll ever not get by without some type of protocols.”