Tennessee: Q & A with John Wade

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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 Japan.

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 west.

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 constraints.

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 million.

TW: How important are travel agents in selling Tennessee?

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) 265-1630; www.chattanooga.net/cvb.

Knoxville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 601 W. Summit Hill Drive, Suite 200B, Knoxville 37902, (423) 632-7374, fax (423) 673-4400; www.knoxville.org.

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.

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