Tourism may be up in Tennessee, but the commissioner in charge of making sure people want to visit the Volunteer State wants the governor to commit $3.5 million to her department’s advertising.
“More and more states are catching onto the fact that tourism is one of those economic engines that you can crank up very quickly and get a return on your investment very quickly,” Commissioner Susan Whitaker explained to Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday in Knoxville as she presented the Department of Tourist Development’s budget proposal.
In Tennessee, she said, for every dollar the state sinks into advertising, state and local governments see $19 in sales taxes.
According to the U.S. Travel Association’s 2010 Economic Impact Report, Tennessee saw a 6.3 percent increase in tourism across the state last year, adding $14 billion to the state economy compared to $13.3 billion in 2009.
The only thing she’d ask for, she said, is making sure the state permanently renews its advertising budget which last year was paid for with one-time funding.
“We would love to have those dollars put back in,” Whitaker said. She has served her post since 2003.
Haslam said maintaining the advertising funds is on the table.
The administration is seeking to balance a budget thrown out of whack by an up to $400 million imbalance between projected revenues and mandatory increases in areas including education.
“We understand the desire to have the one-time money put back in recurring. Obviously, you understand our struggle to figure out how to have all that work, and we will do that,” the governor said at the conclusion of the budget hearing. “It’s a significant part of our economy.”
If asked to reduce the agency’s $20.5 million budget, Whitaker said she would reduce off-line advertising and services at its call center that handles visitor inquiries and requests for travel guides.