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Business Monthly - Tourism primed to become major factor

The Tourism Development Board was established by the city of McMinnville in late 2016 to function much like the Industrial Development Board.  

TDB was viewed as a necessary step to pursue tourism for our community, as it has become a major consideration for the state of Tennessee. We first reported on this strategy one year ago as the effort was just ramping up. An amazing amount has been accomplished.  

There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that the actions and strategy will prove to be very successful. The results can and should be substantial. How has this rosy forecast been put together?  

The first fiscal year (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018) TDB budget was $75,000. The current fiscal year budget is $125,000, with the increase being funded by the relatively new lodging tax. This tax collection is passed on monthly to TDB by the city of McMinnville.  

The current budget includes $10,000 which was planned and spent for a formal tourism strategic plan called the Adventure Tourism Plan. This study was let in November 2016 to Griggs & Maloney LLC of Murfreesboro. The 70+ page document was completed in March 2018 and has served as the guiding light to TDB ever since. There are certain core tenets of this plan:

A. The target market is millennials, 30% of the population, ages 21-37. This is currently the largest sector of the population.  

B. One key finding of millennials is they would rather (78%) spend money on an experience vs. a product.  (i.e. take a tourism trip vs. buy a new car)

C. 2.9 million people live within a two-hour drive of McMinnville. This means concentrating marketing outreach efforts to millennials in Nashville, Chattanooga, Cookeville, and Huntsville, Ala.

The largest budget category is marketing services for $40,000. This overall area benefited from a Tennessee Department of Tourism grant for $34,000 spread over two years. The first focus was a rebranding effort conducted through Designsensory of Knoxville. 

The rebranding was accomplished during the first quarter of 2018. That was followed by a major brand awareness campaign. There were multiple steps with this campaign, all conducted with the involvement and assistance of Designsensory. First was a major push on all social media outlets. Then two, one-minute video tapes were created showing tourists enjoying Warren County. One was a couple from Massachusetts who came to our area for fly fishing and sightseeing.

Then came a contest for two free trips to McMinnville – one from Nashville and one from Chattanooga. The contests were widely promoted on social media. Ultimately, the trips were awarded.  

Videos were created when the social media influencers came to visit for continuing promotion. All told, close to 1 million impressions were recorded on social media with this campaign, which far exceeded all expectations.

The next step in this marketing platform is that Designsensory is building a new TDB website – which will go online in mid-February. A highlight of the website will be a series of suggested itineraries for tourists coming to our area. The itineraries will appeal to different interests and destinations within the county.  

There will be several planned social media posts that will drive people to the new website, particularly about what makes McMinnville and Warren County unique.  

A tourism magazine is in development for summer release with an initial printing of 3,000 copies. Exchange Media of Tullahoma is developing this intended 45-page magazine including selling ads thereof. The magazine will be widely distributed to all TN Welcome Centers across the state, all area motels/ hotels, the new Motlow Robotics Center, etc.

Exchange Media will be interviewing tourism business owners this spring. With this magazine and the continuing social media campaign, the desired marketing platform for tourism will be established.

Not part of the tourism campaign, but significant to McMinnville is a planned community magazine that will be out in February aimed at people moving here or considering same.  The Chamber notes there is a high interest in relocation here – annual numbers asking for information is easily into the thousands. This magazine will be timely and helpful.

The latest data for tourism for Warren County is 2017 data. While this data does not reflect the above campaign, it does note that tourism in 2017 involved expenditures of almost $25.5 million which translated into local tax revenue of $1,020,000 – first year over $1 million.  

The 2018 tourism statistics become available in September 2019. It will probably be at least a year later (September 2020) before a meaningful assessment of the TDB efforts can be measured for effectiveness.

Another positive development during 2018 was the success experienced with Cumberland Caverns Live, which replaced Bluegrass Underground. CCL was launched in January 2018 and resulted in several cave music sellouts. While being linked with a PBS syndicated show is not expected, CCL is pursuing a possible streaming concerts online link that could reach 2 million paying customers. This could be very exciting.

The TDB conducted the first craft beer festival Sept. 29, 2018 at the Farmers Market.  The event hosted 17 craft brewers and sold out the available 250 event tickets. Based on the interest and enthusiasm, this is being planned as an annual event.

Chamber president Mandy Eller did make a presentation to the County Commission at the October 2018 meeting. The presentation was specifically made about the growing importance of tourism to Warren County. This was a topic of high interest.

Against this backdrop of optimism, I asked Chamber president Mandy Eller about what disappointments occurred during 2018 for TDB. At the top of this list is the fact the Blue Building was not involved with third party funding to create a boutique hotel. There were multiple avenues pursued during the year, but all to-date ended up as too costly.  

A second disappointment is not being able to effectuate the sale of the current VFW Post on Highway 70S that includes a desired boat ramp onto the Barren Fork River. Both efforts continue.

The current members of the TDB are:

• Michael Griffith

• John Parton

• Christy Ross

• Katie Kemezis

• Chad McGee (new)

• Matt Sands (rolling off)

•Ben Newman (ex-officio)

• Mandy Eller (ex-officio)

All members of TDB are appointed for three-year terms by the Board of Aldermen of the city of McMinnville.  

TDB will hold key strategy meetings prior to the next July 1 fiscal year beginning. It is expected that a long-term plan will be developed at that time. Further, it is expected that a full-time director for TDB will be mandated. Chamber president Mandy Eller has most capably served as interim director.  

Already expressed as desired is the need for more earthen hiking trails in the city and county and more access points in our local rivers network. Under discussion is more tourism signage.

The TDB has made great progress. Our community has many marketable assets for tourism. BRAC congratulates the dedication and professional manner in which TDB has pursued success in less than a year and a half of existence. This is a lucrative area where upscale results are expected. Many thanks to all involved.