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Ovation 2013: Excellence in Tourism Promotion

Liz Engel Clark
Thursday, Sep 5, 2013

Honoring an effective or unique promotion of tourism related to economic development in a community or region.

Walt Page
Fentress County, chamber executive director

When Walt Page first caught wind of the Tennessee Tourism Committee – particularly its makeup and lack of Upper Cumberland representation – it didn’t take long for the Fentress County chamber director to make a stand. The committee, which was tasked to study ways to grow tourism statewide, had no rural representation, in fact – that is until Page wound up an appointee as part of that fight.

Page, who has led the Fentress chamber for the past five years, is involved in tourism efforts on the local level, too. Page serves on the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association, coordinates the Fentress County Chamber’s social media marketing, and manages the ever-growing Highway 127 Sale Facebook page, which recently reached more than 25,000 fans. He’s a certified Tennessee tourism professional and a graduate of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Organizational Management, serves on the board of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce executives, is vice chairman of the newly formed Upper Cumberland Chamber Executives Association, and more.

114 Central Ave. West, Jamestown
(931) 879-9948

Arts Center of Cannon County
Cannon County, performance venue/gallery

It’s been called “The Best Little Arts Center in Tennessee,” and this year, it was the only place where you could see Elvis, Dolly and Ariel from the Little Mermaid in a span of weeks. For Woodbury, the Arts Center of Cannon County continues to shine.

The multi-functional center – which not only hosts 12-16 shows and plays each year, performances that are chosen “with great difficulty,” CEO James Adkins said – is also home to an exhibit hall and gallery, plus a restaurant. Shows this year ranged from “Elvis Has Left The Building” to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5 the musical” to “Little Mermaid, Jr.” It’s estimated 200,000 people come through the center in a given year, he said; less than half, 40 percent or so, are from Cannon County.

“It’s a very unique place,” Adkins said. “Our arts center is a model community for other art centers across the state.”

1424 John Bragg Highway, Woodbury
(615) 563-2787

Cumberland Caverns
Warren County, cave/music venue

Cumberland Caverns certainly has a new air about it these days, and it’s one paying off in a big way in terms of visitor traffic. Attendance is up 11 percent over 2012 and will likely top 35,000 by year’s end. That’s almost twice the tally just five years ago when 18,000 showed up to the McMinnville cave on an annual basis.

Of course, having an Emmy award-winning program in your back pocket definitely doesn’t hurt.

Bluegrass Underground, the monthly concert series that’s recorded inside the cave and viewed on PBS stations across the U.S., took home the top regional award for best lighting this year. That can only lead to good things, said Cumberland Caverns general manager Teddy Jones.

“That’s been a lot of fun. It’s really cool,” Jones said. “The idea of going to a cave, people enjoy it, and some people would never imagine doing that. But if Old Crow Medicine Show (for example) was playing here, then they’d maybe for the first time get to experience what the underground world really is: the huge rooms, the formations and just the beauty of what’s underneath.

“That’s what I think has really driven our attendance increase over the last three or four years,” Jones said. “This year is no exception. We’re again breaking records with our attendance. Just the idea that more people are aware of us, that’s what’s exciting about it.”

That’s not to say efforts are slowing any. Jones said they are looking to open new sections of cave – about 28 miles are currently mapped, but less than six miles are being shown through various tours. And marketing efforts will continue to be strong.

“We’ve been real active in our local market, not just in Warren County but the region,” Jones said. “It’s true for people, that if it’s in your own backyard, you tend to overlook it. But we have ignited more excitement, we’re seeing a lot of people who haven’t been in years and they’re real excited about coming back. It’s definitely all paid off.”

1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville
(931) 668-4396

ART a la carte
Putnam County, art gallery

ART a la carte may come off as your typical cute, quiet and quaint gallery. But it sure packs a punch when it comes to life with monthly – sometimes more often – events, from art shows, viewings and live musical performances.

ART, a gallery owned by Arlene Dubo, is being increasingly seen as a tourist draw on Cookeville’s West Side. Particularly as the historic Cookeville district is seen more and more as a destination.

“We’ve had more tourists this year from all over, not necessarily just for the events, but definitely seeing the gallery as a highlight in their discovery of Cookeville,” she said.

How did it start? One gallery, The Magical Muse, had just closed, and West Textures was on its way out. Dubo decided to throw together a one-weekend art show in the building she owned on West Broad. One weekend turned to two, the show was lumped in with the Redbud Festival also downtown that year, and the excitement level was high. She couldn’t help but think, “Maybe we can keep doing this.”

The gallery formally opened a few months later.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she said. “I didn’t know if I had the skill set or the people skills or anything, but, the rest is history.”

Now the gallery displays the work of almost 50 artists – all professional and local to Tennessee. There’s a wide range of selection – and price points – from pottery and paintings to high-end crafts.

Dubo says ART will continue to be part of the growth of Cookeville and she’s looking at ways to make the business a permanent fixture downtown.
“Cookeville definitely needs a gallery,” she said. “There’s always been a gallery here, because the arts community is so big. But it’s also very hard for galleries to succeed.

“I’m very proud of (ART a la carte), proud of the artists here, very proud to be part of this community,” she continued. “Cookeville is really on the cusp of being a great tourist destination, especially the West Side, and I’m happy to be part of that. It’s what attracted us here in the first place.”

121 W. Broad St., Cookeville
(931) 520-8155

Upper Cumberland Tourism Association
All counties, regional tourism group

The Upper Cumberland Tourism Association plays a major role in getting visitors to the 14-county region, and has been doing so with increasing success for the past 27 years. More than likely, however, if someone mentions the organization in casual conversation, the most likely response will be, “What’s that?”

This is because the association is so busy promoting the UC that it often forgets to promote itself, said executive director Ruth Dyal. Only if an individual is a chamber of commerce director, a business owner or a local government official will he or she nod knowingly and say, “Yes, the UCTA is the umbrella organization for tourism development and promotion in the region.”

And for good measure. Tourism is one of the major industries in the Upper Cumberland. In 1986, when the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association was founded, it was a $44 million industry here. In 2011, the last year for which the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development has data, that figure was approaching $400 million. For a predominately rural region, that is a significant growth for a 25-year period, Dyal said.

All the while, the landscape remains much the same as it was in the ‘80s – vast woodlands, sprawling lakes and sweeping valleys lead to small towns with historic courthouses and main streets. So, what’s changed? A lot, Dyal said, but among the highlights, a grassroots effort to develop, fund and promote the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail; the return of outdoor and travel writer tours; and the development of UCTA’s own travel show, “Stay & Play in the UC.”

“Creativity and the willingness to attempt the new and different have always been the trademark of the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association,” Dyal said. “Never in its history has that been more true than today.

“The future is bright and the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association is leading the way,” she added. “Even though the association’s name is not a household (name), the results of its work are evident throughout the region and beyond.”

P.O. Box 2411, Cookeville
(931) 537-6347

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