State: Visitor development on the rise; teamwork is key
COOKEVILLE – Putnam is a destination on the rise, if reports from the U.S. Travel Association are any indication. And a restructuring of the county’s visitors bureau could mean for continued growth.
The Upper Cumberland hub saw all-time highs in terms of direct tourism expenditures – visitors spent $122.15 million in 2015, a 3.52 percent increase over the previous year. Another 910 jobs were generated with $18.68 million in payroll. State and local sales tax revenues also totaled $9.96 million, ranking Putnam County 16th out of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development (TDTD) Commissioner Kevin Triplett recently toured the community. Following his visit, he offered a special presentation to community leadership, emphasizing a key differentiator that Putnam County has in regards to visitor development. That differentiator, teamwork.
“You can have the greatest idea in the world, but without community support, it never gets off the ground. It is just an idea,” Triplett said. “Your community gets it. It is apparent that you all are working together.”
There was much emphasis in the presentation on the value of tourism as an economic driver. Triplett noted joint initiatives on the state level of TDTD working in sync with the Tennessee Economic and Community Development department.
“Tourism development is economic development. While catering to visitors and guests, it creates the quality-of-life factors that are necessary to recruit and sustain strong industry. It all goes hand-in-hand,” Triplett added.
He also cited the perspective of Gov. Bill Haslam from his recent Governor’s Conference on Tourism, noting that when industry growth decreases or becomes neutral as it does in a normal pattern of economic development, tourism fills the gap by offering experiences that generate revenue.
The Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors Bureau, a program of the chamber of commerce, sees the opportunity for continued growth as a visitor destination.
“As one of the top 20 counties for tourism-related expenditures in Tennessee, we know there is great potential to continue to elevate our county and region as a travel destination,” said Vice President of Visitor Development Zach Ledbetter. “To build on this momentum, we are working to package our tourism assets in a strategic way that will take visitor development to new levels not only for Cookeville-Putnam County, but for our entire region.”
Ledbetter is implementing that initial strategy by restructuring the visitors bureau. He recently created a new position that will allow him to devote more time to the group tour and sports markets along with networking with state, national and international tourism partners.
“Our new director of public relations & marketing will focus on reaching targeted consumer audiences, i.e. Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis, etc.,” Ledbetter said. “This position will manage travel writer tours, advertising, social media, consumer trade shows, enewsletters, press releases, website management, marketing grant opportunities, and other duties with the goal of inspiring guests to visit our community.”
The launch of a new website, VisitCookevilleTN.com, and accompanying marketing materials and merchandise are also part of the overall strategy.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the work being done by our visitors bureau to inspire people to visit Putnam County,” County Executive Randy Porter said. “As a result of that work, the tax savings for our local citizens is incredible.”
In Putnam County, there was $338.51 in tax savings per household due to dollars spent by visitors.
“We know that will only continue to rise with the new structure and strategies of our visitors bureau,” Porter added.