Tourism campaign putting region on map

Photo By Rick Harris
Visitors to the Bristol Experience at Bristol Motor Speedway can learn more about the area’s other attractions through an interactive kiosk showing the "Tales and Trails" video.

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  BRISTOL, Tenn. - A marketing campaign seeking to put Northeast Tennessee on the vacation traveler's map is already yielding positive results, according to the region's tourism organization.
  Claudia Moody, director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association (NETTA), said "Discover America's First Frontier" campaign initiated last year has already raised the area's profile considerably.
  "We are pleased with the initial response generated by this marketing program," Moody said.
  Moody and tourism representatives from around the region announced the second phase of a three-year destination marketing plan at a press conference held in the Bruton Smith Building of Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday afternoon.
  The initiative seeks to raise the area's national status as a vacation destination with a concentrated marketing campaign.
  Phase one began last year with the creation of 10 short videos called "Tales and Trails" showcasing the region's culture, history, and outdoor opportunities. The video "The Birthplace of American Freedom" tells the story of Carter County's historical legacy of democracy and Revolutionary War heroism. The video includes the history of the Overmountain Men, the Watauga Association and the first majority rule government west of the original 13 Colonies.
  The videos tell the story of a variety of regional attractions including the Birthplace of County Music in Bristol, the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, and The Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., the state theatre of Virginia.
  "Tales and Trails" also highlights the region's outdoor opportunities, particularly fishing in the Watauga River as well as Carter County's Laurel Fork and the Doe River.
  Moody said the videos began immediately paying dividends for the cyber-surfers looking for new places to visit. She said the videos accessibility at NETTA's Web site had garnered more than 10,000 inquiries from Web surfers interested in visiting the area.
  "Since launching the 'Tales and Trails' videos on our Web site in June 2003, visitor traffic has risen more than 95 percent," Moody said.
  The plan was developed by Evergrow, a Johnson City-based communications firm. The three-phase marketing plan is funded by NETTA members, the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development, and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
  "There is an implied promise in the word 'frontier' that this region delivers on,"said Lori Cogan, president of Evergrow. "The promise of a fresh travel experience that's off the beaten path, largely undiscovered, and often breathtaking and unforgettable."
  Moody said using an established industry formula, tourism officials estimated the inquiries would ultimately generate 546 visitors to the area.
  "Typically, these visitors spend an average of $331 per day and stay two days," Moody said. "This indicates that the direct economic impact of the campaign will be around $336,000."
  In a Travel Industry Association of America survey of U.S. residential travel in Northeast Tennessee, NETTA found Sullivan County led the way with $208 million in total travel expenditures for 2003. Washington County was second with $148 million and Greene County came in third with $54 million.
  Carter County earned $21 million in tourism-related travel expenditures during 2003. Tourism and travel activities created a county payroll of $3.48 million in Carter County during the previous year.
  The community earned $1.38 in local tax receipts and $1.39 million in state tax receipts generated by visitors. The report estimated the county employed roughly 160 people in tourism related activities.
  NETTA also unveiled an interactive kiosk of "Tales and Trails" videos at the Bristol Experience located in the Bruton Smith Building. The event also presented "Rolling Thunder", a video dedicated to the history and growth of the Bristol Motor Speedway.
  Tourism continues to grow as a state industry and nowhere is the industry more pronounced than during the two NASCAR race weekends at BMS.
   The speedway has grown from seating less than 20,000 fans during its early years in the 1960s to 160,000 strong for two race weekends each year. Beyond NASCAR and drag racing, BMS has also taken to hosting special events such as "Dukesfest" of the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show and outdoors events.
   BMS General Manager Jeff Byrd said BMS keeps the track in operation roughly 275 days a year.
   "We had a vision we wouldn't just be a race track or a drag strip," Byrd said. "We had a vision to be a tourist destination."
   Moody also announced the "Tales and Trails" campaign earned the Shining Example Award, the most prestigious honor awarded by the Southeast Tourism Society. The society selects the top efforts from among 11 Southern states.
  The third phase of the marketing campaign begins next year with additional promotional activities.