Bradley County’s growth rate between 2010 and 2011 was the second highest in the state, with an increase of 13.1 percent.
According to the latest figures released by the Research Department of the U.S. Travel Association, tourism revenue for the entire state was up 8.7 percent, bringing tourism to a $15.4 billion industry in Tennessee. All 95 Tennessee counties experienced a positive growth in tourism, according to these latest figures.
“We are so pleased with the way the tourism industry has turned a corner, and of course, with our terrific local increase,” said Melissa Woody, vice president for Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
“Tennessee is an amazing state to promote to visitors with so much see and do from Memphis to Bristol. We are fortunate in Bradley County, Cleveland and Charleston, along with our neighbors in the Ocoee Region, to offer outdoor adventure, unique events, heritage sites and southern hospitality to our visitors.”
The annual study, “The Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties,” showed the combined local and state taxes generated by tourists to be $8.88 million.
“These tax dollars help support local services that we enjoy as residents — like quality roads and schools, police and fire protection — but visitors helped pay the bills instead of our citizens paying more from our local pockets,” she said.
Interest in visiting the area maintained a high level with almost 60,000 people requesting a visitor guide this year.
Woody said advertising and promotion, which generates these requests, are at an all-time high.
Woody explained the successful activity of the economic development division of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce has also contributed greatly to the positive growth in tourism revenues.
She said many consultants and construction personnel are staying in local hotels, dining in area restaurants and shopping in local stores.
Large projects such as Wacker, Olin, Whirlpool and Amazon pump millions of dollars into an economy and the tourism sector is certainly no exception.
“The entire local economy is boosted when something as significant as these industrial development projects come along,” she said.
“We all work together in concert to benefit our community. Just as we need a strong industrial base, agricultural base and small business community, we need a healthy local tourism industry.
“Tourism activities, events, sites and revenue are important contributors to a high quality of life in any community,” she explained.
The Chamber’s CVB not only promotes the area to visitors but also plays a role in product development, helping various groups and organizations create and enhance the visitor experience. The CVB was just heavily involved in producing one of the most unique events anywhere, the International Cowpea Festival & Cook-off held recently in Charleston. Organizers report about 2,000 people attended the event throughout the day, and positive comments have streamed into the event’s Facebook page lauding the event activities.
“When you want to attract visitors through events, they have to be unique,” said Woody, who has worked in the tourism industry for 13 years.
“Every town has a harvest festival, a talent showcase or a taste of the city. Nobody in the whole, wide world has a cowpea festival, except Charleston, Tenn.”
Woody went on to explain other events in the community are unique and of interest to visitors, including the spooky tales of the Evening of Mystery and Folklore, 25 years of the Halloween Block Party, graveside re-enactments at the annual Fort Hill Cemetery Tour, and reverse Christmas caroling at Carols in the City.
She also mentioned the events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will gear back up in 2013 as did the war activity in Bradley County in 1863.
The commemorative events are following the timeline of actual events during Civil War times.
Another major project on the CVB priority list is interpretation of the area’s Cherokee history. The scope of the project includes county-wide historical site markers and development of a Cherokee heritage center, interpretive greenway and river park in present-day Charleston.
The banks of the Hiwassee were once the site of the Cherokee Agency and ultimately the location of Fort Cass, the federal military operations headquarters for the entire Trail of Tears removal.
“This story is a sad but significant part of American history that we cannot allow to be lost,” Woody noted. “We must remember the Cherokee people who loved this land and called it home. This development is an opportunity to teach residents and visitors alike about Cherokee culture and traditions still alive today.”