Officials take a new approach to regional tourism

Robert Houk • May 6, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Like many other things these days, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed the way National Travel and Tourism Week is being observed this year.

The annual event, which ends Saturday, has traditionally been a time when travel and tourism professionals nationwide “unite to celebrate the value travel holds for our economy, businesses and our personal well-being.” This week has seen tourism officials take a different approach to getting that message out to the public.

In The Past

Jenna Moore, the director of sales for Johnson City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in the past that she and other local officials would go to state welcome centers in Bristol, Kingsport and Unicoi County to hand out cupcakes, popcorn and brochures to visitors letting them know of the attractions available in the region.

Officials with the Johnson City Cardinals, the Hands On! Discovery Center and from area river rafting companies also went along to help promote the area. 

“They were representative of the things in our community that visitors might enjoy doing,” Moore said. 

Officials with Visit Johnson City also spotlighted many other things to see and do in the area, as well as showed their appreciation to the hotels that serve the local tourism industry.

This year, Moore said the city’s tourism staff has taken to social media to promote the region.

And Visit Johnson City is hoping local residents will join it in helping to get the word out to others on social media who might want to visit the area.

“We are able to communicate with local people, businesses and visitors on social media in a safe way,” Moore said.

Those sites can be reached on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

A New Approach

Visit Johnson City is partnering with Bank of Tennessee in offering a “Dine On Us” gift card give away through Facebook. The two groups will give away $100 to local restaurants each week during the month of May.

“This social media effort is a small way we can help local restaurants and people in our community,”  Brenda Whitson, the executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in news release earlier this week. “Whether you’re taking advantage of re-opened businesses or ordering curbside, we hope everyone does their part in protecting each other by following social distancing guidelines.”

Tourism officials are also asking local residents to participate in a “24 hours in Johnson City,” a survey from which the results will be used to create a custom itinerary for visitors to the area.

“This is what our community says are fun things to do while you are here,” Moore said.

The most recent statistics from the U.S. Travel Association shows tourism accounts for $272.6 million in visitor spending and $6.3 million in local tax revenues generated annually in Washington County.

Looking Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a noticeable impact on travel to the area. A number of  spring events have been canceled, including the Blue Plum Festival that was scheduled for the first weekend in June. 

“Many of our summer athletic events have been canceled, and some have been postponed,” Whitson said Tuesday. “I think what is to come in the fall is yet to be seen, that will depend on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our governor.”

Whitson said the goal of tourism leaders in the region is to utilize as many social and digital platforms as possible. That includes a new landing page for the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website that will be launched later this month.

“It will highlight curated virtual experiences, and itineraries that align with our attractions and offerings in our region,” she said. “We will have a targeted demographic in cities that are drivable and within 300 miles.

She said research from Destinations Development, STR and other respected travel industry research organizations show that people will want to travel by car on shorter trips to locations that are not crowded and have outdoor activities.

 “When the time is right, our messaging will focus on our beautiful outdoors, family activities and our affordability,” Whitson said.

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