Booking vacations and heading out of town may seem mundane to the typical traveler. However, tourism is a major industry and while you’re spending money in one place, someone else is spending cash in another. Destinations around the world have taken note of how tourism can transform a city into a traveler’s dream. Tourism boards listened to visitors and made changes to keep tourists coming back every year. 

Oftentimes, the transformative effects of tourism are highlighted in international destinations. However, there are many American cities that have used tourism to rebrand their image. Here are a few examples of American cities that have been transformed by tourism over the years.  

Nashville, TN

nashville stadium
Photo credit: Chait Goli

When Nashville’s Opryland USA theme park shut down in 1997, the city lost its major tourist attraction. However, in the early 2000s, the city began backing a fresh tourism strategy that rebranded country music’s favorite town as Music City. Now, Nashville has become a melting pot of tourism extravaganzas – especially for music lovers.

The city rebuilt Broadway, its entertainment district. There are over 180 live music venues throughout the city, a plethora of culinary offerings, shopping centers, and more. Back in 1978, Nashville welcomed 7.7 million tourists. In 2022, the city hosted over 14.4 million visitors. 

Orlando, FL

Disneyland's castle in Orlando
Photo credit: Craig Adderley

When Walt Disney built his epic theme park in Orlando in 1971, it was expected the city would blow up as a prime tourism destination. It did. According to data from Visit Orlando, Orlando became the first destination to surpass 70 million visitors in 2017. Like most tourism hotspots, the city’s numbers took a hit after the pandemic.

However, Orlando continues to shine as a favorite American city for travelers. Want to really know how much Orlando has changed? Before Disney World, the city was a prime military town. Orlando was mostly swamp land with a population under 50,000 who mostly served in the military. 

Austin, TX

Austin texas office buildings
Photo credit: Trac Vu

Not only is Austin the Texas capital, but it also is a growing city that tourists can’t seem to stay away from. Back in the day, Austin had a small-town vibe. It was mostly college students and folks who worked for the government. Now, Austin is the 10th largest city in the US, according to the City of Austin, and its tourism industry is growing alongside it. 

The city welcomes over 30 million tourists annually as the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital Of The World. According to Visit Austin, visitors spent $8.2 billion dollars exploring the city in 2022. Travelers will find major events happening here all year long. Music, tech, and film are on display every year during SXSW. There’s the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Formula 1 US Grand Prix race, and Afrotech, of course.

Louisville, KY 

Louisville at Night Reflecting in Ohio River
Photo credit: halbergman

Louisville may seem like an unlikely choice for this list of American cities transformed by tourism. However, 2022 was the state of Kentucky’s biggest year for tourism. The southern state generated $13 billion in tourism funds, according to the Associated Press. Some of that trickled down from Louisville. Also known as Bourbon Country, Louisville has continued to grow as a tourist destination. In addition to an abundance of distilleries, the city welcomes 160,000 guests annually for the Kentucky Derby. Louisville welcomed 19 million visitors in 2019 and the city has goals of attracting 25 million tourists by 2030