Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D) gets it on tourism. Early in his first term, Bredesen plucked Susan Whitaker from Dollywood to become the commissioner of the Department of Tourist Development–I would rename it the Dept. of Tourism Development–and she brought a professionalism to a post that in the past had all too often been handed to political hacks.
Commissioner Susan Whitaker with Linda Caldwell of Tennessee Overhill
Whitaker presented the tourism conference on Friday morning her State of the Industry Address, and rolled out some impressive accomplishments:
- Measured by person-trips (one person spending one night more than 50 miles from home) Tennessee has now moved into the top 10 of the lower 48 states, up from 14th in 2005.
- Travel expenditures in 2006 brought in $1 billion more in sales tax over 2005.
- She and governor talked the legislature into spending $4.75 million on a branding campaign for the state.
In a Friday morning address to the faithful, Commissioner Whitaker had some other interesting news. Tennessee will begin targeting some new groups of travelers: baby boomers, sports fans, family reunions, and weddings. She noted that Tennessee is ramping up for the 2010 sesquicentennial of the Civil War by pouring over a half million dollars into a 700-site, multi-state Civil War trail. One hundred fifty of the sites are in Tennessee.
Of great interest to me were her comments on sustainable tourism. She announced a Great Smoky Mountain Sustainable Tourist Summit in April of 2008 in Gatlinburg. National Geographic will take part in this summit, as will the University of Tennessee. Having a session on sustainable tourism in Gatlinburg is like having a conference on chastity in Las Vegas, but this is a good step. Speaking with great care, she commented on how Maine has a lovely coast yet hideous looking towns just a few miles inland. She noted that the tourism industry in Tennessee has an interest in towns that look nice and do not have endless strip malls.
She said that such matters cannot be dictated from the state. I disagree–the power to grant funds for highways and everything else gives the state a huge cudgel here–but Whitaker noted that local planners need to hear from tourism folks. Amen!
In recent years, Dolly Parton has appeared in a variety of commercials promoting Tennessee–most notably this great one–and Whitaker pointed out that Dolly has never charged the state for doing so. The commissioner did not say if the Elvis people have donated the King’s image and video as well.
The state tourism office advertises in 11 Afro-American newspapers across the state and four Hispanic newspapers as well as magazines such as Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, O, and Women’s Day. Seems that women 25-54 are the ones in a household who gather the info for family trips. The Tennessee tourism website now has limited Spanish and German translations to appeal to European guests.
I was impressed. Governor Breseden has put a sharp person in charge of tourism and has given her the resources to do a good job. I’d like to see him put some teeth into planning on the county and city level and make Tennessee a better looking place to live as well as visit.