Posted 8/9/19

With domestic and international travelers pouring into Tennessee and spending their money at a record clip, many are looking to Bradley County as a destination.In 2018, tourism revenue in the …

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With domestic and international travelers pouring into Tennessee and spending their money at a record clip, many are looking to Bradley County as a destination.

In 2018, tourism revenue in the Cleveland-Charleston-Bradley County community topped $148.4 million, the highest amount ever reported for the Southeast Tennessee hotbed of history, recreation and wildlife.

Melissa Woody, vice president for Tourism Development at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said the latest figures have been published by the U.S. Travel Association in a study commissioned by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Department.

The document, which created a stir statewide by alluding to what has become a $22 billion industry, was released in a Nashville press conference by Gov. Bill Lee and Tourism Commissioner Mark Ezell.

With a 6% increase over the previous year, Tennessee tourism now exceeds the national growth rate for travel expenditures by 20%, according to the U.S. Travel Association study. Contributing to this growth is international traveler spending which listed Tennessee as No. 3 on the national charts behind only Pennsylvania and Colorado, based on the latest findings of Tourism Economics.

Thanks to being a neighbor to the whitewater rafting and outdoor recreation industries in Polk County — whose natural amenities include the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers, as well as the Cherokee National Forest — and its own tourist sites like Red Clay State Historic Area and the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Heritage Center, Bradley County continues to catch the eye of travelers, Woody stressed.

“We are so pleased with the healthy growth of our local tourism industry,” Woody told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “We are fortunate in Bradley County, Cleveland and Charleston, along with our neighbors in the Ocoee region, to offer exciting outdoor adventure, compelling heritage sites and southern charm.”

The state’s annual study, titled “The Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties,” showed the combined local and state taxes generated by tourists in Bradley County to be $11.9 million, Woody explained.

“These tax dollars help support local services that we enjoy as residents — like quality roads and schools, and police and fire protection — but visitors helped pay the bills instead of our citizens paying more from our local pockets,” she said.

Thanks to these expenditures by visitors — whether Bradley County is their destination or a pass-through — local residents save $304 per household in annual taxes, the longtime Chamber advocate noted.

Although the natural beauty and history of Bradley County and the Ocoee region are strong selling points for domestic and international travelers, it doesn’t come by accident. Much of it is the result of advertising, promotion and public relations to generate interest in the area, she said.

“Efforts to produce a beautiful website (, a quality visitors guide and a detailed marketing plan are important tools in attracting visitors,” Woody cited. 

She called her Chamber division’s work an investment in the local economy.

“Just as we need a strong industrial base, agricultural base and small-business community, we need a healthy local tourism industry,” Woody said. “Revenue from visitor spending is an important contributor to a strong economy and high quality of life in any community.”

Growing numbers

for Tennessee

In their recent press conference, the state governor and tourism commissioner reported Tennessee welcomed 119 million domestic visitors in 2018, a 5.1% increase from the 113 million who dropped in the previous year. 

The year’s $22 billion in domestic and international travel spending is a state record. Further, it is estimated travelers to Tennessee spend $60 million per day.

Lee pointed out Tennessee’s tourism growth is outpacing the nation in all areas of travel including tax revenue, expenditures, payroll and employment.

Ezell said Tennessee’s travel industry in 2018 generated 189,757 jobs and $1.81 billion in state and local tax revenue, an increase of more than $50 million in new state and local tax dollars — approximately $25 million of which supports public education.

The numbers show international travelers have taken a hankering to the Volunteer State’s hospitality. According to Lee and Ezell, international traveler spending in Tennessee is seven times higher than the national average.

“From our thriving cities to our beautiful rural landscapes and everything in between, Tennessee has solidified its place as a leader in tourism across the country,” Lee stated. “Our booming tourism sector is outpacing the nation in every category.”

He added, “World-class food, music and adventure are just a few things folks find when they come to Tennessee, and thankfully, folks are visiting this remarkable place more than ever.”

Like Lee, Ezell pointed to Tennessee’s diversity — big cities, small towns and rural regions — as being a key to attracting visitors.

“We would not have these numbers if it weren’t for renovations, capital investments and passion shown by tourism partners across the state,” the commissioner said. “The record-breaking millions who come here discover the music, history and culture, family experiences and scenic beauty that make Tennessee ‘The Soundtrack of America.’”


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