MEMPHIS — Tourists spent more money in Tennessee in 2010 compared with the year before, a sign that the state’s history, culture and attractions consistently can generate precious dollars in the face of budget difficulties, officials said.
The Tennessee Department of Tourism and Development said late last week that tourists in the state spent $14.1 billion last year, up 6.3 percent from 2009. All 95 counties in the state had increases in tourism dollars from 2009 to last year.
The state also received $1 billion in state and local tax revenue for the fifth straight year in 2010, the department said.
Gov. Bill Haslam, who addressed state tourism professionals Friday at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, read off a list of awards given to Tennessee’s tourist attractions.
Haslam cited Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Bristol Motor Speedway, Graceland in Memphis and the state’s historic driving trails as some of the state’s key tourist attractions. Haslam said he made a point of keeping the state’s $6.4 million tourism marketing budget at the same level — despite having to cut $1 billion from the overall state budget — because of tourism’s role as Tennessee’s second-largest industry.
Tourism tax revenue helps pay for job creation and education, Haslam said.
“You keep driving revenue to the state; you keep bringing people here,” he told the audience. “That helps us fund better schools, which helps us attract more jobs.”
The state has several important tourism-related events on the horizon in 2012, Haslam said. Those include the 150th anniversary of Civil War battles in Tennessee, which will be commemorated at Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Stone’s River; the reopening of Opry Mills mall in Nashville in the spring, after devastating floods in May 2010 forced its closure; and the 35th anniversary of Elvis Week, which remembers the death of rock and roll icon Elvis Presley in Memphis.
Haslam also praised the creation of the state’s self-guided tourism trails, where visitors drive to attractions that are tied together by a theme, such as the Civil War or the Mississippi River. Visitors are guided by pamphlets that list and describe the stops along the trails.
State officials have said the driving trails are an inexpensive way to spur tourism because new attractions don’t have to be built and visitors can stop at restaurants and shops as they drive the trails, spending valuable dollars in the process.
Haslam said a new federal grant of more than $800,000 will go to the enhancement of the state’s Civil War trails.
“It makes it easy,” Haslam said of the trails. “People’s lives are complicated enough and when they go on vacation. They’re like, ‘OK, I’d love to take a Civil War tour. Tell me how to do it.’”
Susan Whitaker, the state’s tourism commissioner, said strategies to generate travel dollars are changing because tourists are using Internet tools such as Twitter to share their experiences instantly with others.
“It’s just changed immeasurably from where it was even 10 years ago,” Whitaker said. “We need to make sure we’re now on all those different platforms, letting people know what’s here.”