The numbers are in! Bradley County’s tourism growth rate between 2011 and 2012 was the highest in the state with an increase of 9.43 percent.
Total tourism revenues in Bradley County for 2012 topped $122 million, the highest ever.
According to the latest figures released by the Research Department of the U.S. Travel Association, tourism revenue for the state was up 5.2 percent bringing tourism to a $16.2 billion industry in Tennessee.
“We are so pleased with the results of this study and the healthy growth of our local tourism industry,” said Melissa Woody, vice president for Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
“We are fortunate in Bradley County – Cleveland and Charleston, along with our neighbors in the Ocoee Region, to offer amazing outdoor adventure, unique events, compelling heritage sites and Southern hospitality.”
The annual study, The Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties, showed the combined local and state taxes generated by tourists to be $9.74 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.
Woody said advertising, promotion and public relations help generate interest in the area. She explained that requests for information about visiting the area come into the Chamber by the tens of thousands each year.
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. New projects and expansions such as Wacker, Olin, Whirlpool, Mars Snackfood and Amazon pump millions of dollars into an economy and the tourism sector is certainly no exception.
“We all work together in concert to benefit our community,” she said. “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.”
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 instrumental in the spring opening of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center in Charleston. The center tells the significant story of Fort Cass (present-day Charleston) as the military operational headquarters of the entire Cherokee Removal operation.
“This is an important story that would have been lost if a concerned group had not initiated this center,” Woody said. “People will come to this heritage center to learn about significant history. We have already had almost 500 visitors while still working on securing signage and promoting the interpretive site.”
Woody commented Red Clay State Historic Area and the excellent educational work they are doing to tell the Cherokee story.
“Red Clay is so significant and sacred,” she explained. “The park staff and those who preserved this important place have done an amazing job interpreting the Cherokee council grounds. Charleston’s story is different, but it’s all connected. The Cherokee sites weave a story and that needs to be told completely, accurately and respectfully.”
The CVB was just heavily involved in producing one of the most unique events anywhere, the second annual International Cowpea Festival & Cook-off held recently in Charleston. Organizers report that about 3,500 people attended the event throughout a beautiful day.
“When you want to attract visitors through events, they have to be unique,” said Woody, who has worked in the tourism industry for 14 years. “Every town has a harvest festival, an arts 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 that other events in the community are unique and are of interest to visitors, including spooky tales of the Evening of Mystery and Folklore, tradition 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 are gearing up to tell the story of war activity in Bradley County in the fall of 1863. The commemorative events are following the timeline of actual events during Civil War times. Watch for information about living history events in Cleveland, Oct. 4 and 5, and Charleston Nov. 8 and 9.