Appreciating tourists, drawing them in

Published 1:50 pm Friday, May 4, 2018

May 6 marks Tourist Appreciation Day, and Bell County has been making strides to reignite interest in the area through various ways.

National and state parks, music shows in Middlesboro and Pineville, film screenings at the Bell Theater, comic book conventions, food festivals such as the annual Wing Fling and much, much more are all great draws for locals and tourists alike, but what does maintaining a solid tourist base consist of?

“The bulk of the praise goes to our people in the hospitality industry who go above and beyond to accommodate visitors from outside our area. People like Rita Jackson-Edmonson (Manager at Pine Mountain State Park) and Joy Taylor (who manages Sleep Inn, Holiday Inn and the Middlesboro Inn) who have a deep understanding of the industry and put that knowledge into action,” said Bell County Tourism Director Jon Grace.

“Pine Mountain has done a fantastic job in holding a multitude of events and programs, specifically focusing on improving the winter months when tourism is typically slow. And it’s shown results as their numbers are through the roof. The staff there has done a fantastic job. But it’s not only people who work in the hospitality industry, it’s our citizens too. Their friendly demeanor, willingness to help visitors…they make fantastic first impressions on folks from out of town, which encourages those visitors to make return trips here.”

Grace also highlighted how essential tourism is to the local economy and stated that the past few years have actually been record breaking. The economic impact numbers for 2016 were $41,000,000.

To help businesses reach the widest possible audience, Bell County Tourism recently implemented the Hospitality Improvement Program. Tourism has taken folders to businesses that contain visitor guides, rack cards, and a cheat-sheet that will help employees spearhead helping tourists to maximize impact.

“Obviously the main attraction here is the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. That’s a primary attraction to draw people in, as is Pine Mountain State Park. Our goal is to build a strong inventory of primary, destination-level attractions…we have some projects in the works that will help build our catalog of primary attractions such as the Appalachian Wildlife Center, the off-highway vehicle trail system project, an improving our kayaking and small-water fishing areas. Adding a few more of those can take us to levels we’ve only dreamed of,” said Grace.