On Thursday at the 72nd Annual Meeting and Luncheon of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, officials with city, county and state government past and present came together to recognize the importance of tourism to the area. Through the spirit of cooperation, Chattanooga and Hamilton County have been successful in becoming the fourth county of destination in the state of Tennessee for tourism according to Jim Coppinger, Hamilton County mayor.
Bob Doak, CCVB president and CEO, told the audience of over 1,000 that the tourism industry booked a record 156,000 hotel rooms in 2012.
In the coming year, two additional conventions have committed to meet in the city, The Ironman competition and the American Quilters Society together should add to the number of visitors and over the next five years will create an economic impact of $70 million.
Tourism is responsible for contributing $1 billion per year to the economy of the city. It creates 8,500 full time jobs in Hamilton County. Local sales tax derived from this industry is $19 million. The seven percent state sales tax provides $35 million each year to the state of Tennessee. Hamilton County is responsible for generating seven-eight percent of that amount from tourist dollars. Fifty cents of every dollar in sales tax received by Hamilton County goes toward education. This amounts to $9.6 million, County Mayor Coppinger told the audience.
A study by the University of Tennessee determined that each resident of Hamilton County pays $500 less each year because of the money created from visitors. Mr. Doak said that Chattanooga has received a score of 99.2 out of 100 for customer satisfaction. He added, “This community knows how to take care of its visitors and make them feel welcome."
“The state’s chief executive is an ardent supporter of tourism and is in our corner and that is producing some positive results”, Mr. Doak said of the guest speaker for the day, Governor Bill Haslam.
Taking the stage, the governor relayed a story about a trip to Japan to recruit businesses to come to the state. While in Tokyo the U.S. Ambassador to Japan took him to a country music bar where customers there were excited to have the governor of Tennessee in their midst. This is an example showing that the state has a “brand” called Tennessee, said Governor Haslam. That attracts business and people. Chattanooga and Hamilton County has done a lot to contribute to this, he said.
“Chattanooga has become a model of what it is like to work together” to achieve a goal, said the governor referring to the city, county and state working in cooperation to make the area a destination for travelers.
Claude Ramsey, who served 16 years as Hamilton County mayor and as deputy governor for the past two years, has been shaping the Chattanooga community for the past 41 years and is a loyal supporter of tourism, said Bob Doak.
Jon Kinsey was introduced as someone who began his career as a night auditor in a local hotel and moved on to become a successful developer, mayor of Chattanooga, chairman of the CCVB and an investor in the city’s restaurants and entertainment venues.
Mr. Ramsey has been known for collaboration, tolerance and compromise, said Mr. Doak and Mr. Kinsey has been known for doing it right the first time and for fiscal responsibility. Together they were known as the “Dynamic Duo” because of their understanding of cooperation and that tourism fuels the economy, and that increasing it might lead to visitors coming back to make an investment in the area. For being instrumental in building Chattanooga into what it is today, the CCVB presented both men with an award for outstanding service and contributions to the city.
Governor Haslam also has this same understanding of cooperation and has put together a tourism committee of 22 people from across Tennessee, to create a plan to promote the entire state. He asked the legislator, earlier this year, to provide $8 million to “sell Tennessee.” They were wise enough to do that, said the governor. This will mean jobs and revenue for the state, he said. There is a synergy in Tennessee evidenced by statistics such as the state ranking first in the Southeast for personal income growth and first in the Southeast and fifth in the country for job growth and one of the top five states in the country in which to run a business. He said that Tennessee has the lowest debt per person of any state in the country. Work, however, is still needed to raise the bar of education that will supply the workforce of the future.
Governor Haslam said he is grateful for the leadership in the Chattanooga area. “When you have some spare time, Tennessee is the very best place to spend it,” he said.
More specifically, Mayor Andy Berke told those in the room that visitors to this area leave with the impression that the city is vibrant and that there is great name recognition of Chattanooga. Contributing to this are features such as the mountains, the river and the city itself. He said “It’s a great time to be in Chattanooga.”