Every tourist destination starts somewhere and for rural areas, like Johnson County, it means touting the natural beauty locals sometimes take for granted. While off the beaten path, this area offers visitors unique history, unexpected culture and a wide array of recreational activities. Screenshots.
By Jill Penley
Tennessee’s tourism industry exploded in recent years. According to Mark Ezell, Commissioner of Tourist Development for Tennessee, $1.92 billion dollars was brought in on state and local tax revenues in 2019 beating the national average in travel expenditures by 60 percent. Visitors in Tennessee generated a record-high $23 billion in travel spending. 2020 was poised to be no different, but that was before COVID-19 curtailed the trend and the hospitality industry began to struggle mightily.
As the state’s second largest industry, restoring tourism in a safe manner is critical to restoring the lives and livelihoods of Tennesseans as revenue generated from tourism in Tennessee generates jobs, economic growth and supports critical services like education and healthcare.Every tourist destination starts somewhere and for rural areas, like Johnson County, it means touting the natural beauty locals sometimes take for granted. While off the beaten path, this area offers visitors unique history, unexpected culture and a wide array of recreational activities.
In partnership with Gov. Bill Lee and the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development developed a relief program to directly support tourism through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. To aid the industry’s recovery, Tourist Development received $25 million in CARES Act funding to promote safety and inspire responsible travel. $15 million in grants were designated for Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) in all 95 counties. Johnson County received $25,000 based on the 2010 census.
According to Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor, a team was assembled and tasked with utilizing the funds to let prospective visitors know the county is promoting all recommended COVID-19 protocols and remains open for business. The theme of the message, “Come visit us and enjoy the great outdoors,” is being touted via social media.
“We were able have a new Facebook page put in place- Explore Johnson County TN,” explained Mayor Taylor, who also indicated six professional quality videos were created to showcase local activities and things to do in Johnson County. The first, released in late fall, centered around choosing and cutting the family Christmas tree here. That was followed by hiking to Gentry’s Creek Falls, fishing our many streams, and then exploring and enjoying the Music Mile.
“We have two others to be produced,” said Mayor Taylor, “one will be “Riding the Snake” and the other involves Watauga Lake.”
The team worked with the amazing folks at the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, or NETTA, whose mission is to serve as a catalyst to enhance regional economic and community growth through the promotion and development of tourism.
“Our Town is a great place to live,” said Mountain City Mayor Jerry Jordan. “It has a reputation of being very friendly and many volunteers come together to meet the needs of our seniors, children, and youth.”