For all the tourism records being set in Nashville, there is one area that's lagging behind: The number of large conventions coming to town this fall is lower than in previous years, and tourism leaders say the city's high hotel demand bears part of the blame.
As anyone who's tried to book a room in Nashville has discovered, that demand has been driving up hotel prices. The average price of a hotel room in the Nashville area this year is $141, compared to $97 five years ago. The average is significantly higher for hotels downtown — the ones closest to Music City Center — at $219 a night.
The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. tracks "citywide" conferences, which book at least 1,500 rooms for at least one night. This fall, there will be five citywide events, down from eight last fall. CVC president Butch Spyridon says some organizers who considered Nashville chose other cities in part because hotel prices were so high.
"The reasons are varied, but yeah, prices have been a factor in a number of those decisions," he says.
This should change soon, thanks to an influx of supply. About 1,000 new hotel rooms are expected to be available before the end of the year, and about 4,600 are under construction right now, he says.
"Hotels will adjust their rates. They've had a nice five-year run, and now there's not going to be a crash-and-burn, but there will be some normalcy to the process."
But hotel prices are only one part of the equation of landing these citywide conventions: It's also about having enough available rooms, a problem also driven by high hotel demand.
For example, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages is holding its annual convention at Music City Center the weekend before Thanksgiving. It's a big production, with 7,000 attendees staying at 11 different hotels. (The cheapest guaranteed room is $195 a night, according to the convention's website.)
Charles Starks, who runs the Music City Center, says conference organizers want to shuttle their attendees from as few hotels as possible. With more being built, they can take over larger room blocks in fewer buildings.
"We'll see the ability to go after larger groups than what we've been able to for the last couple of years," he says.
Still, Starks says the Music City Center isn't hurting for business even now. These citywide conferences plan their dates several years in advance, so the convention center has known this lag was coming for a while and planned other smaller events to fill in the gaps.
Even the dip in big conferences should be temporary: Compared to this fall's five citywide conventions, there are already three times as many scheduled for the end of next year.