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Tourism Council launches effort to welcome visitors

Tourism Development Council
Newly established Tourism Development Council of Johnson County Tennessee. (L to R): Richard Calkins, Vikki Woods, Linda Gay, Bob Morrison, and Greg LaVecchia. Not shown: Dennis Shekinah and Doug Carey.

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

A group of several local business owners and community leaders gathered recently to discuss the potential for attracting more visitors to the area, and to define policies and procedures to guide the Tourism Development Council of Johnson County Tennessee, a newly established non-profit organization.

“There is a genuine sense of renaissance and renewal gathering momentum within Johnson County,” said Richard Calkins, Tourism Development Council President, owner of Harbin Hill Farms, and one of the initial organizers. “There is tremendous potential for attracting more visitors to the county, based on the natural beauty of Watauga Lake and the surrounding mountains, recreational opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and ATVs, and our historical and cultural attractions.” Vikki Woods, owner, and manager of Iron Mountain Bed and Breakfast organized a meeting in the fall of 2017 to discuss what could be done to promote tourism development in Johnson County.

Linda Gay of Lake Watauga Winery, Dennis Shekinah of R&D Campground, Bob Morrison, Town of Mountain City Alderman, Doug Carney of Corn Creek Campground, and Greg LaVecchia of Marketing Blue Ridge joined Woods and Calkins to consider prospects for attracting not just day-visitors and longer-stay vacationers, but retirees and others who might consider relocating.

“We also discussed the major challenges involved in encouraging tourism development,” explained Calkins, “including the need for more effective marketing and promotion, better coordination within the county to avoid competing activities and events, and greater investment in the development of local accommodations, restaurants, and recreational facilities.”

Calkins points out proposals for the development of tourism in Johnson County are not new, having been raised many times in the past, going back decades. Several studies have, in fact, been conducted analyzing both tourism potential of the area and the actions needed to attract visitors. “The areas surrounding Johnson County are already experiencing both rapid growth in tourist visits and an influx of retirees,” said Calkins.
Tourism development is receiving unprecedented attention and support at the State level, as confirmed recently by Governor Haslam, who announced another record-breaking year for Tennessee tourism: in 2016, tourism expenditures were up by 4.7 percent, state and local sales tax revenues by 6.7 percent, and tourism-related employment by 3.3 percent. Tennessee places within the top ten tourist destinations in the U.S. and is widely considered a top retirement destination.

Marketing will be a focus of the new Tourism Development Council (TDC), which has secured the services of Marketing Blue Ridge, which specializes in online advertising and marketing. “Together, we’ve developed a five-year strategy and action plan for promoting Johnson County,” explained Calkins, “designed to bring high-quality traffic to our website and social platforms with a high conversion rate to actual visitors.” Utilizing a marketing firm will provide digital analytics to track advertisement and marketing performance.

The TDC’s mission is to promote the development of the tourism sector as a driver of economic growth for the benefit of the citizens of Johnson County. An increased number of visitors will generate increased revenues for local businesses, as well as for the sponsors of various festivals and events. Those revenues will, in turn, create additional employment, as well as sales and other taxes for local governments. Drawing more people to the area that decide to relocate here will strengthen the local real estate market, increase employment in the construction trades, and generate additional property tax receipts, reducing the need for higher property tax rates.

“Jewel of the Appalachian High Country: Johnson County Tennessee,” which is the “tagline” adopted by TDC, is reportedly based on research into key-word usage in tourism-related on-line searches. The official launch of the new Tourism Development Council will be held on Thursday, April 19, 2018, in the form of two informational seminars at 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. to be held in the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center. While the public is invited, area businesses impacted by tourism are especially encouraged to attend.

“Obvious invitees include businesses that are impacted by outside visitors, potential new residents including operators of tourism attractions, sponsors of festivals and events, local government officials and community leaders,” said Calkins. “Especially those whose communities hold various events, and members of other non-profit organizations with interest in tourism development.”