Pictured left to right: Dave Jones (ETN Manager Dept of Tourist Development), Dione Waddington (Brushy Mountain Group), MCTA members: Rose Molley, Linda Jones, Veronica Byrd, and DeAnn Kirgan, Lisa Collett (Morgan County Economic Development Board), and Mark Ezell, Tennessee Commissioner of Tourism.
On August 1, 2019, members of the Morgan County Tourism Alliance (MCTA) were invited and attended a luncheon in Oak Ridge, TN hosted by Greater Knoxville Hospitality Association. Special thanks to Dave Jones, East TN Division Manager of Tennessee Dept. of Tourist Development for the invitation.
Guest speakers at the meeting included Mark Ezell, Governor Lee’s appointed state Commissioner of Tourism and Rob Mortensen, President and CEO of Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. Together, Ezell and Mortensen introduced their vision for tourism in Tennessee. We were given a preview of tourism revenue for last fiscal year that will be made available this week by the department. Last fiscal year in Tennessee, Tourism revenue exceeded $1 Billion dollars; half of these dollars goes toward education in our state.
Ezell, a Tennessee milk farmer with a branding and marketing background including the internationally known “Got Milk” campaign, said about Tennessee tourism that “branding is there because of the quality of [Tennessee tourism] products.”
Mortensen explained that to move forward, we need data to create a “same voice” among tourism partners within our state. Together, Ezell and Mortensen, are gathering this data from Tennessee’s department of Revenue and Labor & Workforce Development. By this time next year, they hope to present a comprehensive report on Tennessee Tourism data to the public. The goal, according to Ezell, is to build, process, and plan tourism’s strategy for its future in Tennessee.
Locally, the most exciting news revolves around Morgan county and it’s ranking by Governor Lee as one for the 15 most economically distressed counties in Tennessee. Commissioner Ezell and his staff will be setting up “rural summits” in these counties to help us boost tourism and respectively tourism revenue for our county. As MCTA partners with Morgan county’s Economic Development Board, Chamber of Commerce, and Brushy Mountain group in our efforts to boost tourism in Morgan county, help from our state agencies is invaluable.
Ezell said, Tennessee’s former governor (Bill Haslem) and tourism commissioner (Kevin Triplett) made great strides in boosting tourism in Tennessee. We personally know this by the Clarence Beeks Music Pathways marker recently erected in Oakdale, TN; part of the Soundtrack of Tennessee initiative. Ezell continued saying Governor Lee wants tourism to take Tennessee from “good to great” making Tennessee the benchmark, or “best in class.”
Mortensen offered an analogy of how tourism dollars can help distressed counties also. He said, county government seeking to find funds to buy one new fire truck can, by investing in tourism, afford to buy three new fire trucks instead. Together, they plan to establish an Office of Rural Tourism to help consolidate efforts as well. 2019-2020 will see Tennessee’s highest tourism budget to date of $22M. Ezell wants to see that budget go even higher saying; “We still need more.”
Morgan County Tourism Alliance meets every second Thursday of each month at the PEC conference room in Wartburg at 6:30 pm. This month’s meeting is August 8 and all are invited to attend. MCTA is an all-volunteer organization.