Katie Gooden, a Chattanooga physician and mother of three young children, decided on the spur of the  moment to take her six-year-old daughter, Emily, on a staycation in the Scenic City. 

Reservations at The Edwin, one of downtown Chattanooga’s most-popular hotels with its catbird seat on the Tennessee River, are usually hard to come by. However, with tourism down in the city due to COVID-19 — as much as 45 percent, says Barry White, CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau — Gooden had no problem getting a room. And she felt safe doing so in spite of the pandemic.

“I felt comfortable with how Chattanoogans and Chattanooga businesses are approaching safety measures,” she says. “And it seemed like a reasonable, safe way to have a mini getaway. The places we went did a great job of masking and keeping distance, and we did our part, as well.”

Six-year-old Emily Gooden jumps for joy on the Walnut Street Bridge while on staycation with her mom, Dr. Katie VonWerssowetz Gooden. (Photo: Katie Gooden)
Six-year-old Emily Gooden jumps for joy on the Walnut Street Bridge while on staycation with her mom, Dr. Katie VonWerssowetz Gooden. (Photo: Katie Gooden)

Nationwide, hotel bookings are down more than 50% compared last year’s numbers, with hotels in urban areas taking the biggest hits, according to recent figures from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Numbers from Tennessee hotels are equally as staggering.

In 2019, Tennessee’s tourism industry saw a record-high $23 billion in domestic and international travel spending. Furthermore, tourism appeared to be well on its way toward topping that before the pandemic hit.

In January, consumer spending for leisure and hospitality reached $84.9 million and February wasn’t too far behind at $76.7 million. That was an  8.1% increase from 2019.

But then the bottom began to fall out. 

Travel spending in Tennessee declined 87% during the first four weeks of April compared to April 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association.The most-recent data from U.S. Travel shows declines at 36% (as of August 22, 2020) compared to the same time in 2019.

And the Tennessee Department of Labor saw record filings for unemployment in the leisure and hospitality industry with 37% of all leisure and hospitality employees filing for unemployment between March 1 and May 30, 2020.

So those in the tourism industry are pushing staycations as an alternative to traveling beyond the city and state borders in order to support local economies.

“We encourage residents to explore Tennessee’s incredible outdoor assets right in their own backyard,” says Amanda Murphy, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. 

 “Our state is home to 500,000 acres of lakes and 50,000 miles of streams and rivers. And Tennessee residents receive a 10% discount at state parks,” said Murphy. “It’s the perfect time to uncover our rich history like Tennessee’s stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail and the Tennessee Music Pathways.”

By staycationing in or near your hometown, you’re also supporting local restaurants, museums and other attractions that are open. “They’re going to great lengths to protect visitors with increased sanitization measures, physical distancing and mask-wearing,” Murphy adds.

Autumn is typically one of the highest seasons for tourism with people traveling for business, sports or just to get away and see the fall colors. But with bookings down, rates have been adjusted and many hotels are offering packages and promotions to locals who are looking for a fun staycation.

Here’s a look at some across the state.

In Chattanooga:

The Moxy, 1220 King St.

Taking advantage of the dining and entertainment options as well as the walkability of the Southside area has lured locals to The Moxy over the past few months, says Kacey Swindell, director of sales. “Many have paired a dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant with their hotel stay,” she says. But if you don’t want to eat out, the kitchen is open 24 hours, seven days a week and the bar stays open from 11 a.m. till 11:30 p.m. daily. The hotel has a buzzy vibe that may not be the best for kids, but if you’re looking for a fun evening out, you’ve found it.

  • Eat, Play and Love is a package all about romance. Bring your sweetie and enjoy a welcome cocktail, a box of chocolates, a bottle of champagne and a $40 food-and-beverage credit. If you’ve partied late into the night, you’ll appreciate the 1 p.m. late checkout this package offers. Book at marriott.com or (423) 664-1180.

Riverview Inn, 2159 Old Wauhatchie Pike

Built in 1935 and renovated just last year, Riverview Inn is a resort-style inn perched on the side of Lookout Mountain, a location that offers outstanding, panoramic views of the city and the river. Take a break from reality and be transformed into a peaceful experience. After hiking or biking the nearby mountain trails by day, or, driving the kids to nearby Rock City or walking to Ruby Falls, rejuvenate in the heated pool, then warm your toes by a roaring fire and make s’mores. Sit back and enjoy coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the afternoon in an old-fashioned rocking chair on your balcony.

  • The two-night Autumn Brilliance package is a staycation designed with savings in mind. Book any two consecutive nights between October 1 and November 18 and receive 25 percent off regular rates.Book at StayAtRiverViewInn.com or call (423) 821-8619.

In Knoxville

The Tennessean, 531 Henley St.

The Tennessean is an urban hotel in the heart of downtown Knoxville right near Market Square and Old Town with its many restaurants, bars, art galleries and shops.

Elizabeth Long, director of guest services at The Tennesseean, says the hotel has seen an uptick in reservations thanks to local people wanting an easy getaway. Staycations, she says, definitely help the economy.

  • The hotel has created a combo package — romance for you and some special pampering for Fido. The Puppy Love package combined with the Romance package is a favorite staycation for locals with a romantic turn-down service that includes chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne and rose petals. And your dog will love homemade treats, an in-room dinner, his own bed and special dishes. Book at thetennesseanhotel.com or call (865) 232-1800.

The Oliver Hotel, 407 Union Ave.

The Oliver Hotel has the charm of yesteryear with the modern technology of today. Built in 1876, the hotel is located in a location convenient to Market Square, Old Town and the University of Tennessee.

  • Breakfast in Bed at The Oliver is a nice way to spend a weekend morning — close to home but far enough away to get some real R&R. The package includes an in-room breakfast for two with a carafe of coffee, juice, muffins and scones. Book at theoliverhotel.com or call (865) 521-0050.

In Nashville

Union Station Hotel, 1001 Broadway

This hotel in the heart of downtown has been welcoming guests for 120 years, first as a train station and then as a hotel when it was transformed in 1986. With so much to offer in Nashville, your staycation will be anything but dull.

  • Sunday Stay Over packages make for a quick getaway and includes a $25 food-and-beverage credit and 15% off one meal at Carter’s Restaurant. Book at unionstationhotelnashville or call (615) 726-1001.

Fairlane Hotel, 401 Union St.

This former savings and loan now sports a retro-modern feel with wood paneling, brass details and terrazzo flooring with high ceilings and comfy beds.

  • Let the Good Times Roll package will let you cut loose and put your everyday chores behind you. The package includes an in-room stocked bar and an assortment of vinyls, plus a $50 Lyft credit to let you trip the light fantastic in Music City. Book at fairlanehotel.com or call (615) 988-8511.

In Memphis

The River Inn of Harbor Town, 50 Harbor Town Square

Recently named the South’s No. 1 hotel by Conde Nast Traveler, The River Inn offers a luxurious getaway with walking trails and unobstructed views of the Mighty Mississippi.

  • The Summer Staycation Home Away from Home package offers a $50 food-and-beverage credit; your choice of rooms; an a la carte breakfast at Paulette’s; wine or champagne at check-in; a turndown service including chocolates and port wine; free parking and wi-fi. Book at riverinnmemphis.com or call (901) 260-3333.

Big Cypress Lodge, 1 Bass Pro Dr.

Conveniently located inside the Memphis Pyramid, a staycation at Big Cypress is fun for the family with an onsite bowling alley, a shooting range, complimentary Sky High Ride tickets and more.

  • Dinos in the City is one of several packages specifically designed for families, making it an ideal getaway in the city. The package includes tickets to the Memphis Zoo and Dinosaur exhibit, as well as a take-home kids nature tube and a life-size crocodile.  Book at big-cypress.com or call (800) 223-3333.