Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association receives statewide award

Jonathan Roberts • Sep 15, 2019 at 7:47 PM

In many respects, Northeast Tennessee is overshadowed by larger cities in West, Middle and East Tennessee — but not when it comes to tourism and marketing.

Or at least, that’s how the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association feels after being named the Destination Marketing Organization of the year by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association.

“We have — to my knowledge — never been the recipient of an award with such magnitude as being recognized as Tennessee’s Destination Marketing Organization of the year,” said NETTA’s only full-time employee, Executive Director Alicia Phelps. “For an area that’s smaller than a lot of other competing cities and destinations in the state, it is such a big deal.

“It just really goes to compliment all the things we’ve been working toward, particularly this year, but also in the past three to five years as well,” she said.

Among those accomplishments? An Amazon Prime outdoor travel show, and an annual magazine with a digital reach of 5.4 million people. The organization also saw a 40% increase in memberships, a 176% increase in net assets and 1,803% increase in website visits over the last three years.

“The Amazon Prime recognition was a huge jump for tourism and recognition, not only for Tennessee and Northeast Tennessee, but for our entire (region) as well,” Phelps said.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the organization's success, is how much they were able to do with such a small budget and just one full-time employee. According to Phelps, NETTA’s marketing budget is just over $150,000. For comparison, Knoxville’s tourism organization, Visit Knoxville, has a total budget of around $5 million, according to Knox News.

“That really states what we’re able to do with our resources and our partners in the area,” Phelps said. “We continue to stay in the top-10 (most) visited places in Tennessee, and that’s because we’re able to work together regionally.”

According to NETTA, Northeast Tennessee generates $877 million of economic impact, and generates more than $189 million in payroll for nearly 7,000 people working in tourism-related industries.

“It’s definitely rewarding — it’s definitely difficult, but the achievement for us to be able to compete with much larger budgets and cities and areas, it’s really quite rewarding,” said Phelps.

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