Diversity is the key to the Tennessee travel experience, say state
and local tourism offcials. The state has great natural beauty,
numerous opportunities for outdoor adventure and sport, historic
sites, museums and cultural activities, theme parks, and, of
course, a wealth of unique attractions associated with its status
as the birthplace and home to so many forms of American music from
the blues to country.
"We have a rich historic and cultural side, big cities as well
as small towns, the musical heritage of country, rock, gospel, the
blues and blue grass, plus the outdoors and hiking, canoeing,
fishing, golfing and white-water rafting," says Kelly McBrayer,
travel industry sales manager for the Tennessee Department of
That diversity is embodied in the state's new theme tag-line,
"Tennessee. Sounds good to me." The change to the new theme and a
new accompanying logo for the department's promotional materials
and literature has proven successful, with a 25% increase in
inquiries on travel to the state within the first six months of
1998, according to the department's 1998-99 marketing plan.
The plan lists the state's top 10 attractions, in terms of 1997
visitations, as Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, the Opryland Theme Park
(which has since closed for financial reasons), the Tennessee
Aquarium in Chattanooga, Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort & Amusement
Park in Gatlinburg, Gaylord Entertainment Performance Halls
(includes the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville On Stage and the Ryman
Auditorium, all in Nashville), the Casey Jones Village in Jackson,
the Chattanooga Choo Choo Complex in Chattanooga, Graceland in
Memphis, the Libertyland Mid-South Fair, and the Memphis Zoo &
The department, says McBrayer, "can provide travel agents with
information on just about any attraction as well as hotels, state
parks, camping, or destinations in Tennessee.
"We continue to look for more ways to get involved with the
agent community," she says. The department is active in ASTA
conferences and events, as well as with ACTA (the Association of
Canadian Travel Agents) and has conducted agent fams, she
Last summer the department established a toll-free number for
agents to order bulk quantities of state tourism materials,
McBrayer says. (The number is 888-232-6713).
This year the department debuted a special travel agent edition
of its Official Vacation Guide. The guide contains a message to
agents from McBrayer as well as information on how they can obtain
more information on the state and promotional materials like
videos, posters, tour shells and vacation guides.
"We're now trying to step up our involvement even more with ASTA
and ACTA," McBrayer says. "We hope in the future we can move more
aggressively with the agent community, but unfortunately we have
The Tennessee Motorcoach Association is also interested in
developing closer ties with travel agents, says its new president,
Randy Ingram. Ingram, a manager at Clinton Bus Co. in Clinton,
Tenn., says agents can play a vital role in the motorcoach
"Agents can help us a great deal in passing on business to our
members," he says, "and the relationship works both ways. We can
make suggestions and referrals to agents looking for something new
in terms of attractions or hotels and motels."
According to Ingram, the amount of business his association's
members do with agents varies depending on their location and the
nature of their business. Clinton Bus Co. operates charters but
doesn't put together its own tour programs. Some association
members do both charters and their own tours.
"Location is very important too," says Ingram. "A motorcoach
operator in Nashville, for example, will be doing a lot of business
Nashville is one of the state's major motorcoach destinations.
Others include Pigeon Forge -- "which is booming; you can't visit
there without seeing something new" -- and Chattanooga with its
Tennessee Aquarium, Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain and revitalized
Nashville has been shifting away from the motorcoach market in
an effort to broaden its market, says Butch Spyridon, executive
vice president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors
"We have been changing as a destination in the last three to
four years," he says. "We're shifting away from motorcoach
visitors, families and pure country [music] fans to younger
visitors. This has been by design but also occurred because of the
tremendous growth of Nashville's convention and meetings business.
You expose the city to a different audience with this kind of
business, and convention attendees then come back on their
Spyridon says Nashville in the '80s "put most of its eggs in the
motorcoach basket. That was great for a while, but we didn't
diversify and we let our market share erode.
"We spent a good deal of energy in the '90s on product
development," he adds. The results of that campaign, including a
new focus on professional sports, "have given Nashville a whole
different spin." The National Hockey League's Nashville Predators
launched their inaugural season in the city last fall, while the
National Football League's Tennessee Titans (formerly the Tennessee
Oilers) will kick off its 1999 season in a new 67,000-seat venue in
"The sports focus is new and different; it's something we can
lay over our music backdrop to give us a truly unique combination
of attractions," Spyridon says. Other significant new developments
include the Opry Mills shopping/entertainment complex, to open next
spring; the headquarters of the Country Music Hall of Fame, to open
next year, and the Frist Center for Visual Arts planned to open in
the spring of 2001.
"Cultural tourism has never been our strong suit," Spyridon
says. "The new Frist Center rounds out our attractions and will
help open the door to the rest of what Nashville offers."
The change in Nashville visitors' market has so far been a good
thing for the city, according to Spyridon. "The new visitors are
staying longer and spending more. We've gone from travel parties
averaging 4.1 persons to those averaging 2.8 persons. This reflects
less families and more couples. The shift has given us the
opportunity to become a year-round destination, instead of just the
three months during the summer when families come here. We
certainly want both kinds of visitors but we want to be open for
business 12 months a year."