I just got back from Chattanooga and the Tennessee Tourism Roundtable, an annual meeting of convention and visitor bureau people from all over the state, hotel and restaurant folks, and a host of vendors happy to sell something to one and all. I usually write from the point of view of visitors to Tennessee, so it was an interesting look behind the curtain at how the state promotes itself. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development released a boatload of statistics at the event, which I will serve up over the next few days.
First, to no surprise, tourism is big business in Tennessee. Travelers spent an estimated $13.4 billion in the state in 2006, up 7.6 percent from the previous year. The state has no income tax and relies heavily on sales taxes. In 2006, some $2.8 billion in sales taxes flowed into state and local coffers.
Governor Phil Bredesen works the crowd at the Roundtable
Here are some impressions from the Roundtable:
- The state does very sophisticated marketing in all mediums, but especially on the Web. Local tourism officials outside of the big cites and Sevier County sometimes struggle to understand and utilize podcasts, RSS feeds, and the more esoteric marketing such as search engine marketing.
- Tennessee visitors have less education than the national average. Only 28 percent of visitors to the state have completed college; the national average is 36 percent. Forty five percent of Tennessee visitors have a high school education or less; the national average is 34 percent. (So that explains why my books did not sell as many copies!)
- Knowledge at the Roundtable seems to always flow downhill. We came, we sat, and people lectured and showed us PowerPoint slides. (The worst ones showed slides and then read them word-for-word to us. Aargh!) While there were always opportunities to ask questions, there didn’t seem to be any room for discussion. I suspect there is a lot of wisdom in the ranks, and I wish there had been room to share ideas.