Claiborne Tourism holds ‘road-mapping’ session with state officials

Published 2:28 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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Several officials from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development (TDTD), including Commissioner Mark Ezell, visited Cumberland Gap recently to put on a “road-mapping” session and help Claiborne County’s tourism community plan for the future.

Claiborne County Chamber of Commerce Director Karyn Clark invited members of the Tourism Commission, the mayors of all the cities and towns in the county, and as many other tourism partners as she could to the Nineteen19 for the meeting.

“I invited people from all walks of tourism. They said I could have up to 30 but I ended up with 32 people there, which was wonderful,” Clark said. “We were very excited that we were one of the very few counties that Commissioner Mark Ezell flew in for our meeting. We were very honored to have him.”

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It was the TDTD 39th Tourism Roadmap Work Session in a rural county across the state. Ezell was joined by Melanie Beaucamp, Jenni Veal, Silas Goddard, and Jody Sliger. The big take-away from the meeting was that Claiborne County Tourism was already doing most of what the state suggests to other rural counties. Their Tourism Board is in place and is represented by all areas of tourism in the county, hotel/motel and other tourism tax revenue goes mostly to that board and is used to promote and improve tourism activities, and plans have already been made for county-wide branding and signage.

“Commissioner Ezell called us Rock Stars,” Clark said. “They had very few suggestions that we weren’t already doing or working to do. We are going to take what they suggested to heart, but they were extremely happy with what’s going on in Claiborne County and they feel like we are far ahead of where most rural counties are. They’re excited for us.”

Clark also said she had recently received a Google optimization grant and the state was thrilled with that. She has gotten several grants for the county, but doing the road mapping session with the TDTD will qualify the county for others.

During the meeting, Ezell explained the benefits of tourism to local economies.

“Tourism brings in tax dollars without creating a lot of extra expenses to the local taxpayers,” he said. “The tourists come in and spend money and then they leave.” Ezell used the example of a county needing an ambulance and using tourism revenue to pay for it. “If you leave that money there (in tourism), we can triple it in three years and you’ll have enough revenue coming in to buy three ambulances,” he said.

Ezel shared a chart that showed how much increasing tourism revenue has saved local taxpayers over the last five years and the numbers continue to go up each year.

Over the last five years it has progressively shown more and more savings to local taxpayers because tourism revenue continues to go up.

“We are increasing tourism here in Claiborne County because it’s a beautiful place to be,” Clark said. “(And) We have been advertising heavily out of state, in things like USA Today’s Travel Edition, Southern Living’s Travel Edition, Blue Ridge Country and lots of other magazines.”

The next big plan for Claiborne Tourism is to complete the restoration of the Graham-Kivett House, which is on the National Historic Register.

“We are in the process of restoring it to its full beauty. We want to make that into a heritage center and a welcome center for Claiborne County,” Clarke said. “The governor has given us some funding for that, we want to get more funding so we can completely do it and finish it.”

Plans are for it to house a museum of Claiborne County artifacts and serve as a welcome center on a larger scale than the current Chamber office.

“From floating along the river to paddling the Powell, we want to advertise that you can come and do that here and get people to come out to the Speedway or to Cumberland Gap to ride bikes, rent a six-bedroom house boat at the lake or go camping,” Clark added. “That’s our biggie — we’ve got to get this house done and that will help Claiborne County immensely.”

Visit Claiborne County is ran under the umbrella of the Claiborne Economic Partnership. Clark is the director, Angie Estes is assistant director, Robin Duncun is the office coordinator and Josh Bundren handles social media. Ronald Lambert is the chairman of the tourism commission.