Tourism can be a game-changer for Carter County

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tourism is the second largest economic driver in the state of Tennessee, with Northeast Tennessee generating more than $772 million in direct tourist spending, more than $144 million in payroll while employing nearly 6,000 people in the region, and generating more than $44 million in sales tax revenue annually.
According to the latest research released by the Tennessee Department of Tourism, 110 million people visited a Tennessee destination in 2016, a 4.4 percent year-over-year increase, making Tennessee one of the Top 10 states for domestic travel in the United States for the third consecutive year. Approximately 80 percent (88.4 million) of Tennessee visitors are leisure travelers, an increase of 5.1 percent compared to 2015. This increase of leisure travelers can be attributed to overnight stays, which grew by 5.2 percent.
In 2015 guests spent a total of $36.46 million in Carter County, an increase of 4.4% compared to 2014, generating a total of $2.24 million in state and $2.32 million in local tax revenues, increases of 9.7% and 6.9%, respectively. A total of 185 Carter Countians are employed in tourism-related fields.
Carter County has much to offer visitors, like mountains, hiking, fishing, river rafting, music, local food, and historic attractions. What we are lacking is the will to promote it and a spirit of pride. If we don’t care enough about our own hometown to promote it, why should we expect someone else to?
In addition to the outdoor experiences, we have music — bluegrass, country, southern gospel — from artists ranging from those you have heard of to those who hope you hear of them.
We have summer baseball, the longest-running outdoor drama in the state of Tennessee, the Tweetsie Trail, most of which is located in Carter County, two state parks, a TVA lake, and two rivers — the Doe and the Watauga, which offer some of the best trout fishing in the region.
Every tourist counts. Our tourists are temporary taxpayers and lessen the burden on local property owners. We can become a place for people to stay before they drive over to Boone, N.C., Abingdon, Va., or some other attraction in the area. Yes, we need a good motel, perhaps some more campgrounds and cabins along the river, and definitely, better marketing of what we have to offer.
The goal should be to maximize visitor spending by making sure tourists know about all attractions, and then nudging them from place to place. A majority of the visitors who come to Elizabethton and Carter County do so not knowing what we have to offer. They come on the good reference of other people. There are some great possibilities for attracting tourists — a fishing tournament, a boat show, historical tours, storytelling, etc.
Elizabethton is very blessed — in a strange way — to have what happened here along the banks of Watauga more than 200 years ago. There are cities the size of Elizabethton all over the country that would kill to have the history and the story that we have had happen in our backyard. The truth is Tennessee began right here along the banks of the Watauga, and we need to say it more often and promote it. It’s not history that’s stodgy, it’s history that’s vibrant.
Shopping, history, festivals, art, food and more — a good time can be had in Elizabethton and Carter County. We just need to tell more people about it.
The next time you are at a Twins game or at the Covered Bridge or at the Roan Mountain State Park, and you see an obvious out-of-towner enjoying it with you, say Thanks. They just paid a small part of your taxes.

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