Main and Mulberry Podcast – July 6, 2020 (w/ Marissa Bell, Chattanooga Tourism Company)

In Chattanooga, you might just be a stone’s throw away from a beautiful, scenic waterfall. On this episode of Main and Mulberry, Marissa Bell tells us all about the many things to do in Chattanooga, TN and why it might be a great place to visit, especially nowadays!


Austin: Hello, everyone. And welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m Austin and I’m excited to have with us today the Public Relations Manager for Chattanooga Tourism Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Marissa Bell. Marissa, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today.

Marissa: Hi, Austin! Thank you for having me.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess getting started, Marissa, a lot of us from Memphis and the surrounding areas visit Chattanooga. And I know, for one, that there are quite a few reasons why someone should experience Chattanooga, but for those who haven’t though, can you tell us what travelers can experience in Chattanooga?

Marissa: Yeah, so we are really easy to get to. We’re not that far of a drive from Memphis, and then we are located pretty centrally in the South. We’re less than a two hour drive from Atlanta, Birmingham, Huntsville, Knoxville, and Nashville. But once you get here, you’ve got a small town feel, but lots of great things to do, including the outdoors. That’s a really important one right now with having social distancing and wanting to have fresh air. We have all sorts of great trails. We have the Tennessee River that flows through the heart of downtown Chattanooga. Beyond that, we also have lots of cultural attractions, arts heritage, and we also have a lot of music in Chattanooga too.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely. And I know a lot of people, you know, everybody’s been kind of cooped up at home with the safer at home stuff. So I’m sure that people are excited to kind of get out and see some new scenery and spend some time in the outdoors. So I know Chattanooga is a great place to do that.

Marissa: Yeah, a good place to start is the Tennessee Aquarium, which did just recently reopen. They do have some hours in the morning where a mask is required and then the rest of the day it’s encouraged. So that’s a good opportunity to wind through the Tennessee Aquarium and see the different creatures that are right outside the door in the Tennessee River. They have those exhibits about the Tennessee River and the river journey building. And then we also have the ocean side, so you can see a lot of different wildlife from around the ocean. From the Tennessee Aquarium, you’ve got the riverfront. So you’re right there at the Tennessee River. It’s a great opportunity to also enjoy that outdoor space and then walk up the short hill up river to the Bluff View Art District, which is another great outdoor area that has sculptures and gardens overlooking the Tennessee river. And you also have the Hunter Museum in that area too.

Austin: Wow. That’s, that’s amazing. Yeah, there’s a lot to do in Chattanooga, obviously. And it might take several trips to see all the attractions that Chattanooga has to offer. But, well, thank you for telling us a little bit about what y’all do have to offer in Chattanooga. But as things have started heating up for the summer, I’m sure this is when you normally see a rise in tourism. So how has tourism been affected by the pandemic?

Marissa: So we did have initial changes with the lockdown and some of the shutdown orders that were in place and having really zero leisure travel for several weeks. And now we are starting to see people moving around. We’re starting to see, mostly it’s people that are wanting to do road trips right now, people feel safest doing that. So we are seeing visitors coming back to Chattanooga and we are welcoming them back. Our attractions have slowly been opening. So the Rock City was one of the first to open and Ruby falls too. So they are doing limited capacity tours. And a lot of our attractions are doing that, so that you don’t, you’re not in a big crowded space, but we did have quite a negative impact in some of our busier months, which would have been March and April when spring break and a lot of schools are out. So we are now seeing the shift in visitors coming back. And it’s definitely a lower percentage of visitor spending that we would normally see in June and July, but we’re definitely starting to see an increase. We projected that a lot of our hotels were sold out over the July 4th weekend, and I don’t have the latest numbers on that, but we do know that it was a busy weekend with lots of people coming here to enjoy our outdoors and enjoy our attractions.

Austin: Gotcha, yeah, so I guess it is, you know, bouncing back a little bit then. I was curious to see, you know, I know it’s probably been a, kind of a little bit of ebb and flow with how things have kind of changed, you know, everything, the landscape kind of changes every day. But it’s good to hear that it’s kind of, you know, bouncing back a little bit and people are getting outdoors and enjoying the outdoors a little bit and get out the out of their homes.

Marissa: The important thing is that, for us, tourism and hospitality is a big part of our local economy, but we want people to be safe. And so we have visitors coming here. We want them to be safe. We want our citizens to be safe. So, as the Chattanooga Tourism Company, we are encouraging our visitors to wear masks to follow CDC guidelines. And we want to make sure that visitors can continue to travel here and have a safe experience while they’re here.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So, you know, I guess some of those changes, you know, you did mention, but walking around downtown, and like Coolidge park, is Coolidge Park open? Is that something that’s seen a lot of foot traffic right now, as well as just the downtown and riverfront area in general?

Marissa: Yeah, so Coolidge Park is a 13 acre park. It’s a great space to really have a picnic with a family and you can have a lot of space, room for the kids to run around. We have restaurants on the north shore, where the coolest park area is that you mentioned. So you could even get a meal to go. Lots of our restaurants are still doing those to-go services, and you could take a restaurant to-go meal, go sit in the park, and have a good picnic. So that’s a great option, but Coolidge Park is just one of many parks that we have. We have another, newer park that’s been renovated downtown called Miller Park. Pretty much all around Chattanooga, you have lots of green spaces and opportunities to have distance and also have some fresh air.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely. That’s awesome. And what about just, you know, I know with all the mountains around you, you mentioned Lookout and some of that is open, and I know Signal Mountain’s kind of across the river. But how about like hiking and trails and things like that? Are those things open for the public right now? Or are those still closed?

Marissa: Yes, most of our trails are open. You will find, depending on if it’s a state park or a national park, which I’m point park is part of the national Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. So you will see some variations as far as what facilities or different visitor centers or museums are going to be open on those properties. But as far as the trails and the outside areas, those are predominantly open all across Chattanooga. So you have Stringer’s Ridge, which is about a hundred acres located just in the north part of Chattanooga, really close to downtown. That’s a great option to hike, in that park, which is a city park. And then you do have the national park system, which offers five different park units and lots of different areas to get on the trail and see great views of the Tennessee River.

Austin: Wow, that’s wild. I mean, it’s really, it sounds like there’s unlimited opportunities, as far as getting outside and getting out of your home right now. So that’s awesome. I know you touched a little bit on restaurants, but how are you guys operating in your hotels and restaurants and venues? Are restaurants open normally again now and operating normally?

Marissa: Yes, not exactly normally because we have those safety measures in place. So what you’ll see, sort of across the board at different restaurants and hotels, is definitely a lot of disinfecting, going the extra mile with those spaces that are high touch areas in both hotels and restaurants. And then beyond that, in the restaurants, you’ll see that there are lots of spacing. There’s a lot of outdoor seating and even extra outdoor seating that’s been created. For example, The Flying Squirrel, which is a restaurant and bar, they have used the lawn area just outside the restaurant to add additional tables, and they already had outdoor seating. So you see restaurants doing things like that, and also having spacing in between tables so that they are at, I think we’re at 50% capacity right now. The restaurants are following that. You’ll also find that, at most of our restaurants, the servers are wearing masks and gloves, and a lot of our different places, hotels and restaurants, even attractions, are doing daily symptom checks and temperature checks of their employees so that, you know, the person you’re interacting with has been checked for symptoms.

Austin: Right, absolutely, absolutely. That’s really good information. So, what about, you know, and I know it’s summer and you’ve got all kinds of events typically in the summer. So as far as events scheduled and that sort of thing that y’all had coming up, are some of those coming up? What are those and are they still moving forward with those or have those been rescheduled? And what does that look like?

Austin: For our events, something like Moon River that was in September actually canceled, and then River bend, which is a music festival on the river front at the end of May and the beginning of June got canceled for this year too. So other events that would be happening right now are still going forward, just in a modified format or just kind of in a different way this year. So one of those is Nightfall, which is a free music concert series every Friday. It’s usually in the heart of downtown. And right now, they’ve been doing that virtually. So they stream their performances every Friday. And if there’s a change at some point where they are able to go to an in-person format, they’re looking at that for later this summer. Another event is a Riverfront Nights, and they’ve actually rebranded this year as Chattanooga Healing and United on the River. And that starts this coming Saturday. And that will run through about mid-August. So that one is a little bit different, in that it’s a riverfront concert. It’s on Ross’s landing, which is just outside of the Tennessee Aquarium, and it’s right there on the Tennessee River. You have lots of green space to spread out. So hopefully that’s going to be one that’s going to be able to go forward and have a safe concert venue as well.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely. That’s awesome. And you got the aquarium right there, so you can even make a day out of it, as well as just the rest of downtown. You go, you can pick up some food and go to the aquarium and then maybe catch the concert. As far as the virtual concerts that you’re doing, you said every Friday, is that right?

Marissa: Yes, so this last one, leading into the July 4th weekend, they did a Nightfall that was streamed. So you could basically watch it anywhere, even if you’re not in Chattanooga, or if you were celebrating with the family, you can even stream it from your phone while hanging out in Coolidge Park.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely. I was gonna say, Memphis people could take advantage of that and actually, you know, tune in for the virtual concert. So that’s very cool information. In closing, what message do you have for those who may be considering a vacation to Chattanooga this year, but are still on the fence?

Marissa: So we are a short drive, and if you’re coming from Memphis, you can just hop in the car rather than getting on a plane. So that’s a plus. Once you get here, we have so many different outdoor activities, from the Tennessee River. And then if water’s not your thing, we have trails on Lookout Mountain, like we talked about, trails on Signal Mountain, and all the ridges surrounding Chattanooga. It’s really fun to, to chase all the waterfalls we have in the area during the summer, and a great way to cool off. Our attractions have a lot of things in place to limit capacity and have time ticketing. So it’s a great way to feel safe as you’re going through our legacy attractions, like Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Tennessee Aquarium, and even the Creative Discovery Museum. So we have a little bit of something for everyone, and we’re doing our best to encourage safety and provide a welcoming experience for our visitors.

Austin: Yeah, absolutely. Well it sounds like Chattanooga just has so much to offer, and especially with outdoors and, you know, you can just go find a waterfall, and that’s so cool, and there’s not many other places like that, where you can do that. So that’s very, very cool.

Marissa: Thank you. Yes, and we have lots of different swimming holes and waterfall lists you can find on our website,

Austin: Okay, thank you. Well, Marissa, thanks again for your time and insight today. We sincerely appreciate it.

Marissa: Thank you, Austin!

Austin: Alright, everyone, until next time, I’m Austin with Main and Mulberry.

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