Tourism: We’re on the right track

Published 10:29 am Monday, July 24, 2017

This week Carter County in cooperation with the local Chamber of Commerce hosted a Tourism Town Hall meeting designed to develop an action plan for promoting local tourism and to enumerate local tourism assets.
It is a step in the right direction. Our lack of tourism marketing can be likened to a child with a lot of potential, but who never develops it. Therefore, the child never learns what he can be or do and much of his assets go to waste. Perhaps he never had the resources, the desire, or the encouragement to develop and grow to his potential. That’s pretty much the way tourism has been in Carter County. It has never grown to its potential.
Elizabethton and Carter County have great tourism potential, and they can be successful for being exactly who they are. It is almost as if we are afraid of being discovered.
Tourism is much more than Elizabethton’s Covered Bridge and the Roan Mountain rhododendron. It’s about preserving local culture. It’s getting visitors on the backroads looking for historic churches and schools, quilt barns, and traditional crafts. It attracts visitors who like to see things just the way they are. It’s about getting people off the Interstate into Elizabethton into local eateries, which serve up their own specialties, such as a City Market hamburger, a chicken salad croissant from the Coffee Company or a plate of tasty and zesty food from the Red Chile, and maybe some lasagna from Dino’s.
The Elizabethton and Carter County Community as a result of the tourism town hall meeting is now taking a critical look at itself. With the guidance of Design Sensory, it is looking at itself and assets with a tourism lens. For example, we already have visitors coming to fish, hunt, river raft and hike, but, without that tourism lens, it is easy to miss the value and opportunity of the traffic that outdoor recreation is already generating.
We need to look at our communities and our town in new ways. We must begin to seek out old buildings, local art and customs with new eyes. There is value in our communities, and sharing these gems through tourism is one possible outcome.
One example: The St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the Wedding Chapel (the old Presbyterian Church) could be used to share about local Civil War History, Saturday morning hymn sings, or old-fashioned pie suppers.
The baseball field at Cat Island Park could be the site of an old-timers baseball game each summer and a community picnic, which would draw former residents back to town for a visit.
We must look for visitors who are already coming to our region, and determine what is attracting them. As we take inventory of our tourism assets, we must look critically at what we already have. It can be a fantastic activity. This inventory of assets doesn’t look at what’s needed or what we wish we had. But, it looks at what is already here, and how we can use them to attract visitors.
Once we have evaluated our tourism assets and interests, a tourism industry can be created that serves the community while honoring local traditions and lifestyles.

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