Contributing editor Robin Amster discusses Tennessee's tourism
industry with John Wade, the commissioner of Tennessee Department
of Tourism Development.
TW: How important is tourism to Tennessee?
Wade: Tourism is the state's second-largest
industry, and by 2001 it will be No. 1. It's an $8.5 billion
industry employing 140,000 Tennesseeans. Forty million people
visited in 1997, an increase of 3.7% over 1996. Figures are not yet
in for 1998. Of that 40 million about 2% were international
visitors, with the highest number coming from the U.K., Germany and
TW: Have you made any changes in how you market
Wade: Two years ago we changed our marketing
and advertising theme. The new theme is "Tennessee. Sounds good to
me." With its double meaning, it incorporates the music theme, but
highlights other areas of tourism. We're trying to attract more
family-oriented visitors and across-the-board tourists than just
visitors interested in the music scene.
TW: What are Tennessee's major attractions?
Wade: Our state is blessed with the beauty of
nature, with so many God-given wonderful things. The Great Smoky
Mountains National Park in East Tennessee attracts nearly 10
million visitors a year. But at the same time, we have a lot of
man-made, fun things for visitors to do and see. We have the music
scene of Nashville in the middle of the state and Memphis in the
We also have a tourism-friendly populace which treats our
visitors like home folks. We know this from focus groups. Because
of this, visitors like to come back again and again to Tennessee.
This is a tremendous advantage.
TW: What are your major visitor markets?
Wade: We receive the most visitors domestically
from Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Mississippi,
Florida, Texas, and Indiana. We're mainly a drive market now; we're
affordable and accessible. We'd like to broaden that market, but
that would take a lot more dollars. It's difficult with our budget
Tennessee now ranks 15th in terms of state tourism budgets. Our
total tourism budget for 1998-99 is $13 million, of which $5.2
million goes to tourism marketing and promotion. We'd like to be in
the top five or 10, and I am cautiously optimistic that will
happen. Since 1995 our budget went from $1.7 million to $5.2
TW: How important are travel agents in selling
Wade: Agents are important, although that
hasn't always been the case. Most of our visitors just drive to
Tennessee; agents aren't necessarily involved in those cases. We
can, however, point to a few success stories. The Opryland Hotel in
Nashville, for example, does a tremendous business. They are at 90%
capacity year-round and that wouldn't be the case without travel
agents. Motorcoach tours are another niche where agents can be very
helpful.For More Information
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, Rachel Jackson
Building, 320 Sixth Ave. N., Nashville 37243, (615) 741-7994, fax
(615) 741-7225; travel agent bulk requests (888) 232-6713;
individual requests (800) GO2 TENN; www.state.tn.us/tourdev.
Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2 Broad St.,
Chattanooga 37402, (800) 322-3344, (423) 756-8687; fax (423)
Knoxville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 601 W. Summit Hill
Drive, Suite 200B, Knoxville 37902, (423) 632-7374, fax (423)
Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 47 Union Ave., Memphis
38103, (901) 543-5300, fax (901) 543-5350; www.memphistravel.com.
Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 161 Fourth Ave. N.,
Nashville 37219, (615) 259-4730, fax (615) 244-6278; www.nashvillecvb.com.