A great article on The Rise of Tourism by the News Herald

February 3, 2014

Buoyed by the popularity of two main fishing tournaments, along with a yearly array of arts and crafts events, festivals and firework shows on the lake, tourism spending in Loudon County has continued its upward climb, with 2012 marking the third increase in a row.Although concrete figures are not in yet, officials predict 2013 will be the fourth.

“I think if we can continue to grow the amount of tourists that come to our community as well as to increase the dollars they spend while they’re here, I think as long as we’re making progress that’s accomplishing a lot,” Clayton Pangle, executive director with the Loudon County Visitors Bureau, said.

Tourism spending in Loudon County reached $45.50 million in 2010, with $1.17 million generated in tourism-related taxes, while spending eclipsed the $50 million mark in 2011. This past year saw a more modest increase to $51.93 million, with $1.29 million in tax receipts related to tourism.

‘Main niche’
Mark Matlock, Loudon County Visitors Bureau board of directors chairman and owner of Matlock Properties, said even with a recovering economy, people are still going out and spending money on tourism.

“I know that people still get out and move about and travel and spend money,” Matlock said. “I like to think some of that’s due to our marketing efforts. We actively try to pursue and have been pretty successful at luring these professional fishing tournaments, and when they’re in town that’s something that you can tangibly see because they’re here buying fuel, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.”

Pangle said the two main fishing tournaments drew about 200 people each in 2013. Loudon County has already lined up two tournaments in 2014, the Cabela’s King Kat Classic in April that officials anticipate will draw up to 200 people, and a Morristown Marine tourney in September that could draw as many as 300, Pangle said.

Also each year, canoeing enthusiasts flock to Loudon County from 26 states and two foreign nations, Canada and Germany, for the Ain’t Louie Fest in March.

Pangle said boaters typically use Loudon as a central location for whitewater opportunities in the region.

“It’s an interesting thing,” he said. “They stay in Lenoir City even though we don’t have any whitewater in Loudon County. They use it as an operational base, and for seven days they go out and do their canoe runs within an hour and half drive of here in all four different directions because within an hour and a half of here we’ve got probably the best whitewater in the eastern half of the United States.”

Although he couldn’t release the name because of ongoing negotiations, Pangle said officials with a “big name” tournament have expressed interest in coming to Loudon in 2015.

Klair Kimmey, vice chairwoman with the Visitors Bureau board, said the organization has worked with counties like Knox and Sevier on fishing tournaments in the past.

“We have found that tourists, they don’t recognize county lines, so we will partner with anybody that is willing to partner with us,” Kimmey said.

Pangle said one example is Loudon County’s promotion of sites in Monroe County and vice versa.

“Monroe County doesn’t have the hotels, for example, but they do have historic Fort Loudoun and Sequoyah (Birthplace Museum),” Pangle said. “So we promote those as things for people to see while they’re here. It doesn’t take away from dollars spent in Loudon County, but it helps us to have that resource that people can go to visit while they’re here.”

During the Professional Anglers Association tournament this past year, Loudon County partnered with Knoxville on generating funds to hold the event on the lake.

“We put up $10,000 from Loudon County’s share, and $20,000 came from Knoxville, and yet the majority of folks stayed here because this was where the tournament was held,” Pangle said, noting that Loudon has worked with Jefferson and other counties that draw fishing tournaments.

“We swap information about tournaments so that they may host somebody that was there one year, and we might be lucky enough to get them the next year or vice versa, so we try to keep them in East Tennessee,” Pangle said.

Matlock said while Visitors Bureau officials discuss other opportunities for attracting tourists to Loudon other than fishing tournaments, the angling events have been the main draw recently.

“That’s probably our main niche that we’re looking at currently,” Matlock said. “We sit and brainstorm quite often about possible ways of doing that and other venues. We’ve been associated with other events in previous years, but as far as a large scale (event), that’s a huge resource that we have other areas don’t have, the lakes that are close by, so we might as well capitalize on that.”

Variety of attractions?
Matlock said in years past the Visitors Bureau has considered other avenues for drawing people to the county, including partnering with Blount County on a billboard campaign advertising the region as a “lakeway” to the Smoky Mountains.

“We were just sort of the pass through route on that deal because the main destination would, of course, have been the Smokies, but the lakes are something that we can be the destination on,” Matlock said.

The Visitors Bureau also held a 5-kilometer run along the lake a few years ago that drew about 75 participants each year in Matlock’s estimation, but that event is no longer held, noting that “plenty” of visitors would come to the county and compete in the run but would leave right afterward.

“People would show up, but it seemed like a struggle,” Matlock said. “… It was one of those things we wished we could have kept it going, but we have to use our resources in the best way.”

Pangle said two main agritourism businesses, Sweetwater Valley Farm and Tennessee Valley Winery, continue to be a draw for the county, along with numerous trail networks like the East Lakeshore Trail, the Rock Springs Park Trail and others. The county is also part of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways program featuring stops along the Rocky Top trail.

When University of Tennessee students visited the county in late 2013 to do some design work to potentially renovate downtown Lenoir City as part of Plan East Tennessee, the students included a trail connecting Rock Springs Park Trail and the Tennessee River, Pangle said.

He said officials with WindRiver, just south of the Tennessee River bridge, had also agreed to allow part of the East Lakeshore Trail to pass through the resort, paving the way for a possible connector if local officials are able to persuade the Tennessee Valley Authority against razing the bridge atop Fort Loudoun Dam once the new U.S. Highway 321 bridge is complete.

“If that happens, and if the bridge connector happens for a walking trail, you could see then you would be able to link up some trails in Lenoir City to the bridge and at least getting across the river to use the lakefront trail,” Pangle said.

Residual sales
Jason Reagan, manager with Comfort Inn off Interstate 75 in Lenoir City and a member of the Visitors Bureau board, said business in 2013 was about the same as in 2012.

He said the hotel does get some residual business from the fishing tournaments and other events, even if they don’t have a preponderance of direct sales, adding that the hotel “definitely noticed an uptick” during the tournaments.

“Even if they don’t stay with us we get some activity off that because that’s just that many more rooms that are off the market off this exit,” Reagan said. “So we get some activity even if it’s not directly. I say this all the time — let’s say if Hampton (Inn) fills up, we benefit from that because that’s that many rooms off the market and Hampton will refer to us if they have walk-ins, and we do the same for them.”

Reagan said the hotel saw a significant increase in customers two years ago.

“In 2012, we saw a noticeable uptick from 2011, but it’s kind of fell stagnant compared to that increase,” Reagan said, noting that he was looking on the bright side heading into 2014.

“We’re an interstate location, and 80 percent of our business is walk-ins, daily walk-ins, whereas a suburban location would have 80 percent reservations,” Reagan said. “It’s just one of those things. I don’t have any special events or any groups on the books yet, but you never know. We’re looking forward to it though. We’re optimistic.”

Return investment
The Visitors Bureau receives $30,000 for its operations from Lenoir City and $5,000 from the city of Loudon, along with 29 percent of the hotel-motel tax coming from the county. Tourists pay a 5 percent hotel-motel tax in Loudon County and an additional 5 percent for hotels located in Lenoir City for a total of 10 percent in local taxes, not including state and federal. The city of Loudon does not have a hotel-motel tax.

Visitors Bureau officials said the organization consistently delivers its share of tourism dollars compared with the amount of local contributions from the three entities.

“Since 2010, we’ve been able to increase the dollars spent in our county and the people coming here without increasing the percentage of the hotel-motel tax we receive from the county or the dollar amounts we receive from Lenoir City or the city of Loudon. Those have remained the same,” Pangle said.

“Each year we’ve been able to bring in more than that returned back to those entities from hotel-motel taxes or from sale taxes that are oriented toward tourists,” Pangle added.

Matlock said as part of the last fishing tournament, Lenoir City contributed about $5,000 toward the event.

“The increase in sales tax revenues and hotel-motel tax revenues and things, they exceeded the $5,000 investment from Lenoir City just from that one event, so they made their money back off the taxes we generated,” Matlock said. “To me that’s a no-brainer.”

Matlock said he thought the three entities were getting a positive return on their investment to support tourism.

Author: Jeremy Styron
Source: News-Herald