Haslam says state should keep up spending on tourism ads

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee needs to continue supporting taxpayer advertising and marketing campaigns to continue the momentum in the state’s growing tourism industry, Gov. Bill Haslam and other officials said.

A new U.S. Travel study shows tourism spending in Tennessee last year grew at twice the overall inflation rate, helping to support about one of every 20 jobs in the state, according to media reports.

Haslam said Friday that the state’s tourism industry grew by 3.3 percent in 2013 to more than $27 billion.

The industry employs 236,200 workers in Tennessee.

To sustain and grow that number, the state needs to continue to support the taxpayer advertising and marketing campaigns, Haslam told the Governor’s Conference on Hospitality & Tourism.

In a state with no income tax, he said, Tennessee relies heavily on sales and other taxes, and tourism is a prime generator of those revenues.

Tennessee officials recently signed a five-year, $60 million contract with a Kansas City, Mo., firm to produce the “Made in Tennessee” tourism campaign.

The marketing agency VML, which has opened a Nashville office, produced two 30-second TV commercials promoting getting outdoors in Tennessee. The ads feature waterfalls, green rolling hills and horseback-riding amid a forest scene. The ads will play in about a dozen markets around the country

Susan Whitaker, commissioner for the state Department of Tourist Development, said if tourism efforts continue to receive strong funding, they’ll be able to hit their goal of putting Tennessee into the top 10 states for tourism. Right now, in terms of revenue, Tennessee is ranked 17th.

“Tennessee’s tourism industry experienced major growth in 2013 and is continuing to set new records across the state in 2014,” Whitaker said. “This means more dollars that can be used for education, public safety and other essential services for all the citizens of Tennessee.”

The improved statewide numbers reflect a concerted effort by a lot of people to promote Tennessee, said Greg Adkins, president and CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. A tourism industry committee put together by Haslam, for example, has invested some $12 million over the last two years and “has had a tremendous impact.”

“We have a lot of momentum,” said Adkins, who is a member of the governor’s committee. “One thing that’s evident with Tennessee is that we have a really strong brand, and I think that will continue to increase.”