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.
The Tennessee Tourism Committee, a group established by Gov. Bill Haslam to find ways the state and the tourism industry can work together better for mutual benefit, is calling for more state spending on tourism advertising, reports the Mountain Press.
The group has been charged with compiling recommendations in that interest that they’re expected to present to state leadership in the next six to eight months.
Dolly Parton Productions President and group leader Ted Miller said it’s clear advertising is one area where the state lags.
“One question we’re struggling with is how do we establish a larger tourism marketing budget,” Miller told the assembly. “We believe we need to spend substantially more dollars on that.”
At current the state invests only about $6 million in all tourism marketing, including print, television and Internet efforts, and even that amount is threatened every year because it’s considered a non-recurring fund in Nashville. That places the state 17th out of the 50 in terms of its spending, well behind leaders in the business like Florida, California and, surprisingly, Michigan, Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker said.
“A few years ago Michigan was spending about $4 million on advertising, but then they started to see the decline of the automotive industry and a lot of those dollars slipping away,” she said. “As sort of an experiment, they decided to put some dollars into marketing through the ‘Pure Michigan’ campaign. Since then, they’ve increased their advertising budget many times over and they’re seeing a return of about $2 or $3 to every dollar spent.”
While doubling or tripling the money is an impressive return — particularly in a place “where you freeze nine months out of the year,” as Whitaker joked — it’s nothing compared to the $19 for every $1 Tennessee gets out of tourism marketing. The industry leaders clearly believe that’s because the state has so much to offer.
See also Andrea Zelinski’s report on Tourism Commissioner Whitaker’s budget presentation to Gov. Bill Haslam.
A tourism brochure estimated to cost taxpayers $15,000 wound up costing more than $100,000, according to a WSMV-TV report on the state Department of Tourist Development. Also questioned is spending of state funds on a video praising Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker and former Gov. Phil Bredesen.
The tourism trail brochures called Walking Tall promote all Tennessee has to offer and are full of individual information on tourist destinations across the state. The ad agency White Thompson, which won the state bid for the brochures, indicated it would cost about $15,000 to develop six brochures, plus about $4,000 for the logo.
But when the I-Team began inspecting the invoices, it found that just a year later, the estimate to finish the brochures had doubled. The estimate for the brochure a year later jumped to about $40,000 to finish the same brochure.
In the end, it cost $64,000. Add on the printing, and the final total was more than $100,000 in tax dollars to put the brochure in tourist destinations across the state.
…Whitaker wouldn’t answer questions on camera, but her public information officer sent an email, saying that this is “an excellent use of state dollars, because of the return on the investment. Early estimates of the cost for the trails were made without any precedents to benchmark and had to be revised and approved as the work was done.”
The email noted, “We have ‘gone to school’ on what works well and what could be improved, in terms of costs of the brochures.”
…In a video that tax dollars paid for, thanking the commissioner for doing her job, executives across the state can be seen thanking her for her work promoting tourism.
It features her family and was a shown at a state tourism convention along with another video thanking then-Gov. Phil Bredesen for doing his job.
According to state invoices, those videos cost taxpayers more than $15,000.
“A video with taxpayer money, thanking them for the job they got paid to do, seems a little overboard,” said (Justin) Owen (of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research) .
The public information officer for Tourist Development said in her email that although the commissioner requested the thank-you video for the governor be made, Whitaker didn’t know there was also a video being made to thank her for her work.
It’s unclear how much the commissioner reviews her department’s spending. For the hundreds of invoices the I-Team looked at for these projects, she didn’t sign off on a single one.