Tag Archives: tourism

Lake City Council votes for changing town name to Rocky Top

By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
LAKE CITY, Tenn. — Despite the famous bluegrass song, Rocky Top, Tenn., has never actually been home sweet home to anyone.

It’s not a town at all, but a rocky outcropping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, high up on the Appalachian Trail.

Now an East Tennessee county commissioner and a group of silent partners want to do something about that. Reasoning that the name Rocky Top has cache, they are promising an impoverished town of 1,700 big things if the residents would be willing to change the town’s name from Lake City to that of the song.

As most college football fans in the Southeast know, “Rocky Top” is the fight song of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The 1967 bluegrass standard is also one of the state songs of Tennessee. But in Lake City, supporters hope a name change would have them tuning in newfound prosperity.

Development plans include a Disney-style interactive, 3-D animated theater; a Branson, Mo.-style live music venue; an indoor-outdoor waterpark and a 500-seat paddleboat restaurant on an as yet-to-be-constructed artificial lake, according to Anderson County Commissioner Tim Isbel.

And that’s just phase one.
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Haslam lauded for fattening tourism spending; Haslam lauds tourism

Tourism leaders from across the state gave Gov. Bill Haslam a couple of standing ovations and an original jacket designed by Manuel on Thursday during the 2013 Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Tourism, reports The Tennessean.

More than 375 tourism professionals, in addition to local Williamson County officials, filled the Marriott Cool Springs ballroom to hear Haslam relay his thanks and to reiterate tourism’s importance to the state in terms of revenue, jobs and telling the state’s story.

Haslam last year committed an additional $8 million, doubling the budget for promoting Tennessee tourism. That move had attendees saying the governor clearly understands the power of the industry.

“When you think about things that push those sales tax numbers it’s what you do,” Haslam told the crowd.

“When you do that and we endorse success there, we provide better pay for teachers. We can provide better help for families with mental health issues. The revenue we’re driving out of the tourism business is part of this bigger picture of what we’re trying to do … but there’s a third reason why this is such an important industry: Tourism reminds us who we are and helps us tell other people who we are. And if you think about it, whether we’re celebrating the music of Tennessee and all its many varieties, or the incredible natural beauty or the history of Tennessee, there’s no better way of telling people and reminding ourselves.”

Memphis Tourism Promoter Has Ties to Promoted Businesses

The Commercial Appeal has a report on the business dealings of Kevin Kane, executive director of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, described as “the highly visible, taxpayer-financed nonprofit corporation that promotes Memphis tourism.”

After landing the job in 1991, Kane found that established businessmen such as restaurateur Gerald “Bud’’ Chittom and concert ticket seller Charlie Ryan wanted to partner with him in ventures that included buying apartment and office buildings and opening nightclubs.

Today, through those partnerships, Kane has financial interests in four businesses on Beale Street, the Downtown entertainment district that is intensely promoted by the visitors bureau, and he co-owns a building that houses another popular Downtown eatery, Bangkok Alley.

The Beale Street businesses, alone, generated more than $11 million in gross revenue last year.

Kane, 56, says his side businesses pose no conflict to his duties at the visitors bureau, which receives $7.8 million a year in local hotel-motel taxes — 94 percent of its budget — and pays him a $237,000 annual salary.

As he’s maintained since one of his Beale Street properties, Club 152, was briefly shuttered by authorities in May for illegal drug sales, Kane said he routinely discloses his outside interests to his board of directors.

“I’ve been very transparent about my investments,’’ he said.

Nevertheless, a review of the visitor bureau’s conflict-of-interest policy shows it falls short of standards found in model conflict-of-interest policies proposed by leading national nonprofit associations. For example, while the visitor bureau’s policy requires officers to disclose outside business interests, they do it with an oral report to the board, not through a written, signed report as nonprofit legal experts recommend. The visitor bureau’s policy also lacks the kind of language that forbids not only legal conflicts, but those deemed to “undermine public confidence” in a nonprofit organization.

“It stinks to high heaven,” said local government critic Joe Saino, who believes the visitor bureau’s board is too permissive with Kane. “He should not be benefiting from this. He has all these contacts down there. He’s getting a pass on this.”

Cindy Brewer, board chairwoman for the visitor bureau, said the board is revising policies to require annual, written disclosures, yet she disagrees with Saino’s characterization of permissiveness.

Tourism Business Wants to Add a Little ‘Fee’ to Nashville Sales Tax

Sales tax on certain goods sold in downtown Nashville would effectively increase by a small fraction under state legislation Mayor Karl Dean’s administration supports as a way to generate new funds to recruit conventions to the Music City Center, according to the Tennessean.
The proposal, which originated with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau and a handful of Lower Broadway merchants looking for new ways to attract large conventions, would institute a new 0.025 percent fee on goods and services within Nashville’s downtown business district.
Tourism officials plan to use the funds to underwrite the rent of Music City Center as an incentive to lure conventions here. Sales tax in Davidson County is currently 9.25 cents on every dollar.
The legislation calls the measure a “fee,” one that would produce an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million annually. It would go into effect in 2014.
“The CVB and downtown business owners brought forward this idea and we support it as something that will further bolster our tourism industry,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said in a prepared statement.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, and co-sponsored by the majority of Davidson County’s state delegation, heads to the State Government Subcommittee this week
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Tourism Industry Wants More State Money

The message at the 2012 Tennessee Tourism Governor’s Conference, held at Sevierville: the state is doing really well in attracting tourists, but could do even better with more money from state government.
Excerpts from a News Sentinel report:
Gov. Bill Haslam and Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed told an audience of about 500 people that all Tennessee’s already burgeoning tourism industry needs is a cohesive Memphis-to-Mountain City initiative to ratchet it up even another level.
“If the tourism industry works together in a way that has never happened before and we coordinate our efforts and message, I think we can see an unprecedented return,” said Haslam.
…”We’re doing well, but we think we should double-down,” he said. “We feel we can do even better.”
…Reed, charged in April 2011 by Haslam to form a statewide tourism committee, presented several preliminary findings and suggestions.
…”This notion of culture and heritage where people seek real stuff is very important. We have the original birthplace of this stuff. We’ve got to package it, communicate it and bring it to life.”
Reed said the way to do that is get the myriad tourism organizations on the same page, brand their message and convince the state to appropriate more money for advertising and promotions.
Reed said he’s confident that Haslam will sign off on the committee’s final plan and recommendations, which he expects to be presented in the early part of December.
“I haven’t seen a governor committed to tourism like this governor,” Reed said.

TN Tourism Reached Record Level in 2011

Tourism’s economic impact in the state reached a record level last year as visitor spending exceeded $15 billion, according to new figures released Thursday at the 2012 Tennessee Tourism Governor’s Conference and reported by the News Sentinel.
The expenditures totaling $15.36 billion represent an increase of 8.7 percent, or $1.2 billion from 2010, the largest single year-over-year increase.
“You really should be congratulating and celebrating your success,” Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker told a crowd during her annual state of the industry address. “The impact, it’s pretty amazing.”
For the sixth consecutive year, tourism business generated more than a billion dollars in state and local sales tax revenue. All of the state’s 95 counties had an increase, including 23 counties that were up 10 percent.
…Tennessee also entered back into the top 10 ranking of states for number of visitors. The move to 9th in the nation is up six spots from the previous year when it was ranked 15th. International travel visits were up 14.6 percent, resulting in $450 million in visitor spending.

New Haslam Marketing Strategy: Extreme Tourism

Scott McNutt’s satire gun is pointed this week is pointed at the tourist industry… but it’s sort of a shotgun approach with several targets taking pellets.
So far, Haslam’s only tourism accomplishments are securing regular, annual tourism funding, promising to have marketing proposals by year’s end and replacing the tourism slogan used for the last eight years (“The Stage Is Set for You”) that no one knew existed with a slogan used from 1987-1995 (“We’re Playing Your Song”) that no one knew existed, either.
That is why, say the anonymous sources, Haslam wants to promote Tennessee’s most recognizable attribute: our embarrassing, headline-grabbing extremist officials.
“After U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., alleged the impossibility of women getting pregnant from ‘legitimate rape,’ Missouri’s tourism rate probably shot up 30 percent just from journalists rushing there to leech onto that sound bite,” noted one anonymous committee member.
He said regular citizens seeking “alternative” vacations also would be lured by such objectionable remarks. “They think, ‘Wow, I thought our state’s politicians were the most ignorant, offensive jerks, but he’s worse. This, we got to see!’ ” he explained.
Another committee member believes Tennessee is well-positioned to tap that potential alternative market.
“Tennessee has the assets to profit from people yearning to personally affirm that their politicians aren’t the nation’s worst,” the second source said. “Tennessee is blessed with an abundance of jack-in-office jackanapes, like Knoxville’s state Sen. Stacey Campfield and U.S. Rep Marsha Blackburn.”

$19-to-$1 Claim Invites Skepticism

If you accept the conclusion of a recent study, Tennessee’s Department of Tourist Development may be seen as a profit-making agency.
According to Longwoods International, $42 million in state and local government tax revenue was produced from state-sponsored advertising that promotes Tennessee as a great place to visit. The department’s budget is $20 million.
Ergo, the department returned more than $2 in tax revenue for every $1 in tax money spent. All that other stuff that Commissioner Susan Whitaker and her staff do, such as operating 14 welcome centers along our interstate highways, is covered by the revenue-generating side of things.
But the Longwoods study, based on 2010 data, specifically addresses just $2.2 million in “direct advertising dollars” — the portion that went to the newspapers, magazines, broadcasting stations and websites that ran the ads. For that portion, the report declares there is a $19 to $1 “return on investment.”

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Knox Tourism Chief Retires Under Political Pressure

In the face of intense political pressure, the board of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. on Friday voted to accept the retirement of Ray, who is the organization’s president and CEO and has drawn criticism for a compensation package that exceeds $400,000, reports Josh Flory.
The board hasn’t yet achieved closure, though. Ray’s retirement is contingent upon the two sides reaching an agreement about its terms. If no agreement is reached, the board appears willing to fire Ray at a meeting in two weeks, but it will have to decide if there is legal cause for such an action under her contract.
Ray told the board on Friday that she does not believe termination with cause is warranted, but if she is fired without cause Ray is entitled to three months of compensation as severance. Whatever the outcome, the forced retirement represents a stunning fall from grace for a woman who has been a trailblazing leader in Knoxville.
Ray was the first women’s athletic director at the University of Tennessee, the first woman to serve as commission chair of the Knoxville Utilities Board, and in 2010 was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. In addition, KTSC operates out of a building on Gay Street that bears her name.

Mayors Call for Resignation of Knoxville Tourism Chief

From the News Sentinel:
The county’s two top leaders today called for the resignation of Gloria Ray, the president and CEO of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., which has come under fire in recent weeks as officials and the media have begun looking into how the non-profit organization spends its money and how much it pays its workers.
Both Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said they want Ray and the five-member KTSC executive committee, which sets her salary, to step down.
In addition, Burchett asked the state Comptroller of the Treasury to audit “that entity’s financial dealings” because of his “grave concerns and complete lack of confidence in the due diligence, oversight and stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
Ray, who earned more than $411,000 in fiscal year 2011 makes about $200,000 in base salary. But, she also receives a $50,000 signing bonus, another $86,000 if she stays on through June and an additional $166,000 in bonuses for completing her contract, which expires in mid-2013, according to KTSC documents.
“I have lost total confidence in the KTSC board as it exists in light of the amount of money that Gloria’s been paid,” Burchett said.
Later this morning, Rogero called for the resignation of Ray and KTSC’s executive committee in a press conference.
Ray’s compensation is “not consistent with what the community expects,” Rogero said.
In another development this morning, KTSC Attorney Ward Phillips said a number of aspects of Ray’s compensation were properly authorized, but a number may not have been.