Chattanooga is a rising destination for winter travel in the U.S., according to a ranking from TripAdvisor.
The Scenic City topped TripAdvisor’s list of “trending domestic destinations” for tourists this winter. The ranking is based on how many more people searched for things to do in a location this year than last.
Chattanooga was followed by Virginia Beach in the second spot, then Milwaukee. Though the list highlighted popular places for winter travel, Hamilton County has seen increases in tourism at all times of year, said Hugh Morrow, president of Ruby Falls and chairman of the Chattanooga Tourism Co.
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“You don’t really have a summer tourism season anymore like you used to,” Morrow said by phone. “The way people travel now, we really do not have a lull in our schedule.”
Local tourism officials said the ranking reflects an abundance of things to do in Chattanooga, both indoor and out, year-round. The area also has a relatively temperate winter and is easy to get to by car for people who live across the region, said Barry White, president of the Chattanooga Tourism Co.
“We do have a winter season, but it’s not a harsh season,” White said by phone. “It’s just cold enough to know it’s winter, but you’re not going to get snowed in under two feet of snow.”
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Tourism in general is on the rise in Chattanooga, White said. Visitors to Hamilton County brought in a total of $1.5 billion in 2021, a 40% increase from the previous year, the Chattanooga Times Free Press previously reported. On an average night, White said, about 15,000 people are staying in local hotels.
The rise in tourism comes as travelers are venturing out more than at the height of the pandemic. White said Chattanooga has seen increases in all kinds of tourists, aside from business and conference travelers. The holiday season also tends to be a peak time for tourists in Chattanooga — Ruby Falls, for example, sees a spike in visitors once kids are out for winter break, Morrow said.
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“We do have a tremendous amount of friends and family who come here, and they get out and do things,” Morrow said.
Coming out of the pandemic, White said, tourists seem willing to travel farther by car. Chattanooga has recently seen a 25% increase in travelers coming from more than 250 miles away, he said. Many come from population centers such as Nashville, Charlotte or Birmingham, Morrow said.
Other cities across the south that made TripAdvisor’s list include Hilton Head, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Jekyll Island, Georgia.