The “invisible industry” that is tourism is getting a serious leg-up locally via the creation of the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association (CGRTA), whose goal is to ensure that more tourism dollars make it into the coffers of those ten counties that make up the new nonprofit.
It appears the association will be receiving additional assistance via the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council (METTC). Carl Nichols, president and chief executive officer of the CGRTA, and METTC director Julie Graham sat down last week to discuss just how the two organizations can help one another in their shared goals to increase tourism to the region.
The CGRTA is made up of representatives from Claiborne, Campbell, Grainger, Hancock and Union counties in Tennessee. In Kentucky, Bell, Harlan, Knox and Whitley counties are represented on the board. Lee County, Virginia, also has its representative.
Four of those ten counties are included in the region that METTC covers, making the partnership between the two nonprofits a “no-brainer.”
The discussion between Nichols and Graham took place inside the CGRTA headquarters, located in downtown Cumberland Gap. During the extended visit, Nichols commented about the obvious sound of traffic making its way through the Cumberland Gap Parkway tunnel.
“When I hear that traffic, I know a lot of those travelers are more than likely tourists heading to Sevierville. Anything the tourist might want to visit, we have right here in this ten county region. We have everything that Sevierville has, except one thing – four hours of sitting in traffic to get there,” said Nichols.
The plan, Nichols said, is to get the word out to other parts of the country just how many “touristy” things are available within the ten-county region. Every county has a wealth of tourist attractions, some that have been woefully under-advertised in recent years, he said.
“Each county is so unique but, when we all pull together, we share a common bond. We want to promote our region as a place to come and stay a week or more. Make us the base for day trips to other areas. Then, come back here to the peace and quiet,” said Nichols.
According to Graham, today’s tourists are thinking outside the county lines when planning their next vacation.
“Tourists are now planning ahead and mapping a vacation that takes in several destinations located close-by one another,” said Graham.
The newest wave in vacationing, Graham said, is adventure tourism – something the region can easily offer with its plethora of attractions like zip-lining in Harlan and boating, skiing and other water sports on the Norris Lake.
According to the 2014 Economic Impact Report, some $308.8 million was spent by tourists within the ten counties that make up the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association. However, Nichols says, the actual monetary impact is just one-tenth of one percent when figuring the total revenues received by the three states that make up the ten county region.
“That $308.8 million sounds impressive until you realize just how small a percentage the ten counties are actually pulling in. There is definitely room for improvement,” said Nichols.
The CGRTA headquarters will also serve as a Welcome Center, where tourists will be greeted with all manner of information and a museum filled with historic artifacts – some that are currently collecting dust in the Cumberland Gap Town Hall attic.
The next meeting of the CGRTA will be held inside the Town Hall at 6 p.m. on July 24. The public is invited to attend this meeting.
The headquarters, located at 708 Brooklyn St., will be holding its grand opening on Sept. 10. The nonprofit will be raising the necessary operational funds via sponsorships, donations and available grants. For more information, contact Nichols at 423-912-4202.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.