Tri-Cities leaders confront state officials about ‘Tennessee on Me’ campaign excluding Northeast Tennessee

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – A week ago, Gov. Bill Lee alongside country music superstar Brad Paisley announced a new initiative aimed at driving tourism into the state of Tennessee.

The promotion is in close partnership with airlines, participating hotels, and four airports. The four airports include Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, leaving out our airport here in the Tri-Cities.

Following the announcement, the delegation here in Northeast Tennessee, including state Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), voiced their concerns to the governor as well as other state tourism officials in the capital city.

“Tennessee is a great state to live in and if you live in Tennessee, there is absolutely no better part than Northeast Tennessee to live in, period. We’re really united and whether it’s good for Kingsport, Bristol, or Johnson City, if it’s good for one, it’s good for all of us. The airport is the one thing that unites us in Northeast Tennessee and it’s critical. For us to be excluded, it was a significant blow,” Lundberg said.

Their concerns were met with a conference call held Friday morning which included local tourism officials in Northeast Tennessee, Tri-Cities Airport executives, and was led by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development on behalf of the governor’s office.

Alicia Phelps, the executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, was also on the call and said the reasoning for picking the other cities was because they were sad to have suffered the most in the tourism and hotel industry due to the pandemic. While the Tri-Cities made it through the pandemic, there were still lasting impacts on some tourism aspects.

“We were still affected by the pandemic which was kind of our reasoning as to why weren’t we part of this campaign initially, but I think hopefully our voice has been heard, and when they look into fine-tuning that program, hopefully, this is something we won’t have to talk about again in the future,” said Phelps.

Gene Cossey, The Executive Director of the Tri-Cities Airport, said overall, he was pleased with the call and feels that the Governor’s office now understands what Northeast Tennessee brings to the table.

“From the airport’s point of view, I am confident that the unified message that we’re all coming together and that we’re all fighting together for the same thing, encouraging tourism to Northeast Tennessee, encouraging people to fly into our airport and use our airport will, in the long run, will help us tremendously. I’m happy that we were able to say, hey you need to recognize us, you need to make sure we’re being seen and I’m very happy that we were able to create this dialogue that helps change the long-term narrative of who we are in Northeast Tennessee,” said Cossey.

At this time, he said it is unknown if Northeast Tennessee will be added to the current campaign, but he does feel they will be acknowledged moving forward.

“At this point, we don’t really know what that’s going to look like but we’re confident that t’s going to be a good thing that the whole Northeast Tennessee and Tri-Cities area is going to be recognized and that we’ve worked to move this issue forward for the betterment of our region,” said Cossey.

The Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association is currently working with state grants to better tourism and marketing the eight counties that make up Northeast Tennessee.

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