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Steve Ahillen
By Steve Ahillen September 1, 2012

Plan afoot to improve tourism marketing

During a Tennessee Tourism Roundtable in Kingsport on Sept. 23, 2010, candidate Bill Haslam discussed the importance of the state's tourism industry and suggested the need for a brand as part of integrating "marketing strategies across the state.”

A press release on that event produced by Haslam"s campaign team stated: "Mayor Haslam"s approach includes an effort to integrate marketing strategies across the state in order to create a cohesive brand for Tennessee that will send a clear message that our state is a great place both to visit and to base your business.”

We asked the governor"s office about this campaign promise and received this reply on Jan. 4, 2012: "This is an ongoing effort that is part of the task for the statewide Tourism Committee chaired by Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed and co-chaired by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. CEO Jack Soden and Dolly Parton Productions President Ted Miller. This group is working with Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker on how to maximize Tennessee's sizable potential in tourism including more effective marketing.”

This past Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012,  that committee held its final public forum at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to gather information and suggestions on promoting state tourism.

Reed said the group plans to submit its recommendations by year"s end, and indications are there will be a plea for more money, perhaps much more money.

According to a story on the forum in the Tennessean newspaper, the report will recommend increasing the industry"s tourism and marketing budget to create an advertising campaign that will draw in travelers from longer distances.
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker said her office needs about $25 million a year "to be able to do anything significant” in terms of marketing the state.

According to the Tennessean story, Reed said a $15 million budget could be sufficient.

The Department of Tourist Development has a marketing budget of $4.5 million, Reed said. That compares with $25 million in Michigan, for instance, and $68 million in Florida, which spends more money on promotion than any other state does, Whitaker said.

The committee"s recommendation will begin the move to big changes if there are to be any, but some little steps have already been taken since we made our original ruling on this some months ago.

First, the tourism department decided to switch slogans from "The Stage Is Set for You,” which had been used the past eight years and did not really seem to catch on, back to "We"re Playing Your Song,” which was used from 1987 to 1995.

The change was made, according to department officials, because the slogan tested well with focus groups.

Second, as part of the state budget approved for the year starting July 1, 2012, legislators decided to switch the status of the $3.5 million in funding spent on tourism advertising from non-recurring to recurring.

This means, instead of facing approval each session as had been the case, the funding is now a permanent part of the state budget and will automatically be continued unless there"s a specific act of the legislature to change it.

Though this might not sound like much to you and me, tourism folk consider it a huge positive step because it provides some stability in the program and allows for better planning.

So, in terms of what has been actually accomplished, we have a committee"s promised recommendations ahead, a return to an old state slogan and a decision to turn $3.5 million, which tourism was already receiving on an approval basis annually, into funding that doesn"t have to be approved each year. Not nearly enough to declare a victory. We"ll keep it an In the Works.

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