Tennessee's five biggest counties drive 70 percent of the state's tourism spending, but tourism officials hope to draw visitors to the backroads with blues, bluegrass, gospel, country, rock, and soul.
On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development (TDOTD) asked Governor Bill Haslam for $4 million in next year's state budget to create and promote the Tennessee Music Pathway. Much like the Tennessee Civil War Trails connect tourists to historic sites and events, the Music Pathway would connect them to the state's important musical sites, such as Stax Records or Graceland, and point tourists to live music events.
TDOTD Commissioner Kevin Triplett told Haslam he expected to designate locations on the Pathway in all of Tennessee's 95 counties.
"There's musical history in every county in the state," Triplett said Monday. "There's live music in every county in the state."
The largest portion of the $4 million would be spent on installing Music Pathway kiosks in all of Tennessee's 14 Welcome Centers, where more than 13 million people stop each year. At the kiosks, tourists would be able to explore music sites across the state and plan their trips.
Tourism officials said they hope exposing tourists to sites off the beaten path will get them to stay longer and, in turn, spend more money in Tennessee.
"This is a great opportunity to take that traveler who is coming here to those five counties — to cities like Memphis, Nashville, Sevierville, and others — to get them out of those big cities and stay an extra night to go off on the [Tennessee Music Pathway], and see what's there," said Brian Wagner, TDOTD's assistant commissioner of marketing. "If we can get even a small percentage of those people to spend even one more night and venture off into [the Pathway], that's a huge opportunity for growth and adding to the number of hotel room nights."
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An average visitor to Tennessee spends three nights here, Triplett said. TDOTD's goal is an average stay of four-and-a-half nights. That extra time here would mean another night in a hotel, more meals in restaurants, and more spending on gas, souvenirs, and more.
Tourism officials in the state's cities and counties already promote their music assets, Triplett said. The Pathway would be a way to collect those efforts and promote all of the assets outside of the state and internationally. Once the Pathway's sites and events are collected, the state would help point the way to them with branded signs along state highways, much like the Civil War Trails.
An effort similar to the Music Pathway was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1999. It dubbed the 210-mile stretch between Memphis and Nashville the "Music Highway," though little was done to promote it.
The Music Pathway proposal came during the tourism office's budget presentation to Haslam on Monday, which was the official kick-off of the state's budget season.
This year, Haslam asked each state department to present a budget with a 3.5-percent cut from last year's. With state revenues rebounding somewhat, it is not expected that state departments will receive the full 3.5-percent cut.