TN Tourism honors local organization for second time

Published 1:19 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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The Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association has bestowed the prestigious Destination Marketing Organization of the Year Award for the second time within a four year period to the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association. The nonprofit was recognized for its outstanding marketing of the tri-state area with a “Stars of the Industry Award” during a banquet held on Sept. 16 in Murfreesboro.

Carl Nichols, founder and CEO of the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association along with past-president Nita Louthan accepted the award on behalf of the board of directors and others who have worked tirelessly to draw tourists and their dollars to 10 counties that make up its coverage area.

Nichols spoke of the organization’s mission as that of “making history, natural beauty, art, music, adventure and the Appalachian experience come alive by making the Cumberland Gap region a vacation destination that tourists will drive to – not drive through.”

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Since its founding, the Association has done a tremendous job of enticing tourists from far and wide to the tri-state area that surrounds the historic Cumberland Gap. The coverage area takes in Claiborne, Campbell, Grainger, Hancock and Union counties in Tennessee, Bell, Harlan, Knox and Whitley counties in Kentucky and Lee county in Virginia.

Campbell county mayor E. L. Morton congratulated Nichols in an email upon learning of the award. Morton stated in the email that Campbell County led the state in total dollar growth during the 2020-21 fiscal year, thanks to the help of tourism dollars generated through the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association. According to Morton, the county was able to raise $4.1 million.

“…and, Grainger County came close, if not led the state in percentage growth at over 8 percent. That is something to crow about. It illustrates the revenue potential for our outdoor assets and regional economy – three big CGRTA hitters in one year,” reads the email, in part.

Nichols praised the board and others who volunteer their time and knowledge in the nonprofit’s endeavors.

“Our board of directors is made up of outstanding community leaders from all 10 of our represented counties. Through our board, we have built an army comprised of tourism directors, tourism advocates, historians, educators, naturalists and entrepreneurs. These groups support downtown revitalization, small businesses, parks, trails, entertainment, recreation and tourism development. With the extensive experience and expertise of our board members and the support of individuals and small businesses in the region, we are confident that we will accomplish our mission.”

Nichols says that, in order for his organization to reach its goal, it must first begin working in every municipality, no matter the size, within the Cumberland Gap region.

“Every town and community has a story to tell as well as a history to be preserved. Increasing its aesthetic appeal to tourists by revitalizing the downtowns will attract new, small businesses and visitors alike. We must begin at the grassroots level of building and rebuilding the economy in our region. Our region’s economy that was once dependent upon coal and tobacco is no more. Our work begins with local mayors, city councils, tourism boards, chambers of commerce, and all other community leaders. We feel that strong communities build strong counties and strong counties build a strong Cumberland Gap region.

“We are so proud of the progress that is being made in many of our towns and communities and in all of our counties. We are eager to share with the country – and, indeed, the world – our revitalized downtowns, our small businesses, our national park, our 11 state parks, our four major rivers, our four large recreational lakes and our numerous marinas and campgrounds. We are eager as well to share our 13 golf courses, our theatres, music venues, museums, art centers, farmers markets, zip lines, centers of higher learning and thousands of miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. We also want to share our ATV, BlueWay and motorcycle and bicycle trails,” said Nichols.

To learn more about the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association visit: Send your requests for the organization’s weekly email newsletter and calendar of events to: