UPPER CUMBERLAND – When Amy McBroom Stockwell, a former regional director of the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association (UCTA), was asked to comment on what she had found most significant about the region and the association, she mentioned the beauty of the outdoors, the history and culture of the region. She then stressed the longevity of regional tourism development and the promotion organization itself, which has been serving the Upper Cumberland for over three decades.
The UCTA was chartered 35 years ago this week. Prior to this, there had not been an organized region-wide tourism development and promotion organization for some time, making the Upper Cumberland the only region in Tennessee without one.
The year was 1986 and there was a concentrated effort to bring Tennesseans “back home,” as well as entice new and returning visitors to discover the state’s history, culture, entertainment and, of course, the great outdoors. Homecoming ‘86 was the perfect springboard for the new organization.
With a board of directors made up of chamber officials, small business owners and other interested community leaders from all 14 counties of the Upper Cumberland, the new tourism association was launched. Its home base was the Upper Cumberland Development District in Cookeville, and Mary Robbins, a Fentress County native and formerly with WCTE-TV Channel 22, was chosen to become the first regional director. She led the UCTA in this position for 15 years, leaving in 2001 to return to an earlier career in public library service.
“Working with many different organizations and individuals across the region was both a big challenge and an exciting opportunity,” Robbins said. “Businesses and communities were ready to come together and combine efforts to make tourism a viable industry in the Upper Cumberland and to take advantage of the opportunities available with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to participate in major efforts to bring visitors to the state. A foundation was laid in those early years that is still being built upon.”
In 1986, tourism-generated revenue was slightly less than $50 million in the Upper Cumberland. Though that figure pales in comparison with the $456 million plus that the industry brought into the region in 2019 (the last reported year for Tennessee’s Economic Impact of Tourism Study), it was comparable to that of the other smaller, more rural regions of the state.
With the 14 counties working together to develop and promote tourism and the Tennessee Department of Tourism supporting and assisting with those efforts, each following year saw an increase in revenue. A stronger emphasis on outdoor recreation, as well as cultural and historical assets, brought more visitors to the Upper Cumberland as did a concentrated effort to acquaint more people in Tennessee as well as other states with all that the region has to offer. A major focus of this effort was travel and boat shows as was bringing travel and outdoor writers from across the United States and some European countries here to write about the Upper Cumberland.
Kaycee Harris, who served as regional director from 2005 until 2008, stressed how important the natural beauty of the region and its cultural and historical resources are to our popularity as a tourism destination. “It is, however,” she added, “the wonderful people of the region who work in tourism and outdoor recreation, supporting and promoting those resources, that are our most valuable resource of all.”
As years have passed, technology has become an increasingly important means of promotion. This is especially true of tourism and outdoor recreation. With Ruth Dyal taking the lead as regional director in 2008 and still leading the UCTA, the Upper Cumberland region is benefitting tremendously from the many kinds of internet exposure available to businesses and organizations, including several social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Dyal brought to the association many years of business and marketing experience. While relying on many of the tried-and-true means of tourism development and promotion that have been proven effective over many years, she has embraced new ways of incorporating them into the UCTA program of work. At the same time, she has not been hesitant to try new things altogether. The organization’s annual magazine has taken on a new look, with fresh content and a strong emphasis on photographs (she takes “a picture is worth a thousand words” very seriously).
Facebook has become a strong promotional tool for the Association, and she uses it to constantly promote special events around the region.
Thirty-five years and still going strong. The UCTA is a significant presence in the Upper Cumberland Region, helping to grow the economy, to preserve and promote the history and culture, to showcase the region to the nation and the world.