If you’re looking at Nashville, to paraphrase the old Loretta Lynn song, you’re looking at a city with rising RevPar and room rates and a new half-billion dollar plus convention center that not only honors but gives a major boost to America’s Music City.
And of course, you’re also looking at country – with a hotel industry benefitting from renewed interest in its reputation as country music’s capital.
Jan D. Freitag, SVP of Smith Travel Research (STR) in Hendersonville, TN, noted Nashville’s “really strong performance” in recent years. He said, “Revpar was up 13 percent from 2012 to 2013, driven primarily by a room rate increase of 7 1/2 percent, and we expect that to continue.” Hotel occupancy has been on an upswing since 2009 rising from about 55 percent that year to close to 70 percent, last year; ADR was up 7.5 percent to 104 in 2013; RevPar was 71.53 for 2013, all according to STR.
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Continued Freitag: “So far the new Music City Center, which is the new convention center, has attracted a lot of interest and will continue to do so.” He added, “It helps to have a nationally syndicated TV show with your name on it to attract attention.” A new study by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., published in the Tennessean, found that 55 percent of leisure travelers to Nashville had seen “Nashville,” Callie Khouri’s ABC musical drama television series, which debuted in 2012. Additionally, one in five of those travelers cited the show as the “motivating factor” in their decision to visit. “Nashville” viewers also spent more, stayed longer and brought more people with them on average, according to the study.
Nashville has long been the home of the Grand Ole Opry where country music fans have seen live shows by the likes of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and more recently, Garth Brooks. But lately the city’s also been attracting hotel construction to meet the demands of its new, $585-million convention center. Featuring 1.2-million-square-feet of public space and an 1,800-spave parking garage, in the middle of Nashville’s downtown, the center has been driving construction of new full service and select service properties, says Terry Clements, vice president of government and community relations, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “The catalyst for all of the new supply that we’ve got and the heat that Nashville is experiencing right now is the Music City Center,” Clements says.
About 1,270 new units have been added to the city’s supply in the past six months. The Omni Nashville Hotel, with 800 guest rooms, 54 suites and 80,000 feet of meeting space, “is really spectacular,” Clements says. “The hotel just exemplifies the Music City brand that we’re so well known for.”
Guests can choose from a number of new lodgings including Homewood Suites by Hilton (192 guest rooms that are suites and 2,311 sq. feet of meeting space) which opened in October and The Downtown Hyatt Place (255 guest rooms and 3,605 sq. feet of meeting space) which opened in November. The 404 Hotel, with 5 guest rooms, was scheduled to open in March, and plans have also been announced to add a 140-room Holiday Inn Resort Lodge at Fontanel Mansion, a luxury boutique Hotel that opened for business on Feb. 7.
Adding to the local lodging industry’s optimistic outlook are hotel properties that have elected to join the excitement by undergoing tens of millions of dollars in renovations. Last April, Hotel Indigo added 33 guest rooms, for a total of 130 guest rooms, and a cost of $5 million. The 673-room, 24-suite Renaissance Nashville Hotel underwent a $20-million renovation completed in February, the 330 guest-suite Hilton Nashville Downtown is pouring $25 million into renovations expected to finish in June; the 34-room, 14-suite Loews Vanderbilt Hotel is undergoing a $17-million redo including renovated guest rooms, for year-end completion; and Sheraton Nashville Downtown, with 474 guest rooms and 9 suites, is spending $3.25 million on a project slated to be finished in April.
In June two major music festivals hit the city. Both the CMA Music Festival hosted by the Country Music Association (June 5-8) and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (June 12-15), which will feature Elton John and Kanye West, draw 80,000 spectators a day, Clements says.
Nashville of course still reels them in as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, America’s longest running radio show, founded in 1925. Year round, there’s also the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, located inside Music City Center, and the Country Music Hall Of Fame and Museum, a 140,000-square-foot repository for the largest collection of country music artifacts in the world. A new six-floor, 220,000-square-foot, $75 million expansion is more than doubling the facility’s size and connecting it to the new Omni on three levels. The expansion includes a 10,000-square-foot glass-enclosed ballroom with a view of the skyline, and a new state-of-the-art 800-seat theater. The Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame opened in October.
Another of Nashville’s newer attractions is The Johnny Cash Museum, which opened in May. Officially authorized by the Estate of Johnny Cash, it features 18,000 square feet of memorabilia including awards, costumes and instruments, interactive exhibits, and a 250-seat auditorium.
“You can hear his voice and see his high school report card, the last song we wrote and literally everything in between,” says Bill Miller, a fan and friend of Cash and the museum founder. Miller says the museum attracts a spectrum of fans from youthful rebels to families with kids. “We have a lot of corporate executives and hotels and concierges who want to direct people to us,” says Miller. He adds, “We’ve given tours to six or seven concierges form different hotels because they’ve heard about the museum and they know that pretty much any guest is a target fan of Johnny.”