Financial aid from the state and federal government, combined with a one-year contract extension from Metro, will help the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. weather the pandemic and lead the city’s tourism recovery strategy.

The CVC received $4.4 million in grant funding from the state’s CARES Act funds, and completed its application this week for a forgivable $1.3 million paycheck protection plan loan from the most recent federal stimulus package. Groups like the CVC weren’t eligible for earlier iterations of the PPP loans.

Nashville CVC President and CEO Butch Spyridon outlined the government help during a meeting of the Metro Tourism Commission on Tuesday. The CVC is primarily funded with tourism tax dollars through a city contract, and since the tourism industry was clobbered by the pandemic the organization suffered financially in 2020.

Butch Spyridon (Submitted)
Butch Spyridon (Submitted)

Metro’s 5-year contract with the CVC was supposed to expire in 2021, but the city decided to extend the deal for one year before a bidding process is undertaken. The CVC has never had a serious challenger for the work. The CVC uses the Metro funds to recruit conventions, music festivals and other tourism-related events to stimulate the city’s economy.

The government help is merely a bridge to when leisure travel resumes, Spyridon said. The CVC plans to use the funds largely on marketing to those leisure travellers. Spyridon expressed optimism that some tourism events on the calendar for 2021 will help the city’s hospitality industry that had been booming pre-pandemic. He pointed to the upcoming Picasso exhibit at the Frist Art Museum, the NASCAR race at the Nashville Superspeedway, the Music City Grand Prix race and the possible return of festivities around July 4 as events that will help hotels, restaurants and other tourism-dependent businesses.

“We have some pretty good opportunities moving forward as the green light comes on and we see the opportunity to grow our business,” Spyridon said. “At the peak we were operating in the upper 30 (percent) occupancy, which is not good by anybody’s measurement. That has gone down dramatically.

“We see March as the beginning to maybe start to bring those numbers back into fruition and start to grow. I’m going to say by June we hope to be doing some semblance of real business. But it is going to take us a while to build it back to any level of expectation that we all were used to.”

The CVC planned to run a television ad during the Music City Bowl. The ad was paid for in part with state grant money, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19. The state dedicated some of its CARES Act funds to convention and visitors organizations.

Spyridon said the grant funds will still be vital as the CVC pushes its pandemic recovery plan.

The CVC launched a “dream now, visit later” campaign aimed at leisure visitors. Those plans included a gift along with passes to Nashville tourism attractions for when travelers once again feel safe coming here.

Metro Tourism Commissioner Board Member Shannon Sanders reminded commissioners the last pandemic was followed by the Roaring ’20s.

The obvious challenge of salvaging a tourism industry, including the city’s live music sector, still exists. Even as the Nashville economy recovers, the prediction among the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is that the hospitality industry will be last to return to pre-pandemic levels. And, because of the uncertainty around how quickly the vaccine distribution will take hold and curb spread of the virus, marquee events like the 2021 CMA Fest are still up in the air.

But, the tourism commission members maintained their optimism long-term. Board member Shannon Sanders reminded his fellow commissioners of how the global Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago gave way to the Roaring 20s.

The abysmal hotel occupancy has meant laid-off hourly workers, and the public health restrictions have silenced concert venues and left musicians out of work.

“Just get ready, because after the last pandemic we had a 10-year party in America,” Sanders said. “So just get ready.”