After higher than expected tourism revenue this spring, local officials expect to see an additional increase in tourism this summer, according to Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau Director of Tourism Shelda Spencer Rees.
"We've already seen an increase in numbers and it's great," she said. "It's got us a great footing for the summer."
In addition to the boost from this spring, Rees said she thinks high gas prices may be another factor in bringing more people to Chattanooga versus other destinations farther away.
"We like to focus on our drive markets," she said. "There are about 9.5 million people that live less than three hours' drive from Chattanooga. Most of the people who visit usually drive, and we're lucky to have three interstates that cluster to us."
School being out earlier this summer and the fact that many people in the region spent the better part of last summer cleaning up from the April 27 tornadoes instead of traveling are likely additional reasons the numbers are already up this summer, according to Rees.
While the Tennessee Aquarium and Lookout Mountain attractions are sure to draw visitors by the thousands this summer, Rees said many other destinations around the Scenic City are also responsible for drawing in tourists.
She listed the Ocoee River, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Bluff View Art District, various historic Civil War sites and local eateries as some of the tourism generators that Chattanooga residents might not expect.
"Whether it's a large wine selection or a restaurant's uniqueness or the garden-to-plate focus we have here, more and more people are coming to Chattanooga to eat," said Rees.
Special events like Rock City's 80th anniversary, the Chattanooga Zoo's 75th anniversary and the Delta Queen's 85th anniversary may also be responsible for increased interest in the area.
But special events and local tourist attractions aren't just for the out-of-towners, according to Rees.
"There are lots of little things folks can easily do," she said. "Whether it's an appetizer and beer at the Boathouse or something as simple as packing sandwiches and going up to the Hiawassee Refuge, there's never a way to say 'There's nothing to do here.'"
Rees encourages locals to take advantage of the visitor's center, open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. seven days a week, and to utilize the event calendar at www.chattanoogafun.com. The things that attract people to the city are often the things that the people who live here love most too, she said.
"People love the walkability of the city and how you can be from downtown to the North Shore in just 15 minutes," she said. "We have also gotten so many kudos for being a friendly city. It's great to help people who need directions or suggestions for restaurants. Word of mouth is our best form of advertising."