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Becoming “Shelbyville-unique”

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Tourism is like eating the bacon from someone else’s hog. Well, that’s at least how Daniel Berry, director of strategic relations with South Central Tennessee Tourism Association, jokingly puts it.  

As Tennessee’s second-largest sector, tourism brings some $29 billion through the state per year, according to Berry. For Bedford County, tourism and hospitality are quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sectors since last year’s pandemic devastatingly impacted the industry.  

Annual visitor spending dropped from nearly $28 million in 2019 to $20 million in 2020 for Bedford, according to U.S. Travel Association data. In 2020, Bedford County ranked 46 out of 95 counties in visitor spending.  

“I don’t see why we can’t easily change that to at least top 30,” said Ryan French, SCTTA executive director.  

French and Berry, along with Bedford County Commissioner Sylvia Pinson and Lisa Carden, are contracted with SCTTA for the next year to help bring tourism marketing and branding to the Shelbyville-Bedford County area.  

SCTTA is a nonprofit that was begun by the State of Tennessee Legislator in 1973, and its goal is to bring viable marketing tourism to the 13 counties across Tennessee it’s with—including Bedford County.  

The team 

Berry connects with businesses, while French—who has experience with several other companies in their marketing department— works with the city government. Pinson, a tour guide at Nearest Green Distillery, and Carden, a former Jack Daniels tour guide are the “boots on the ground” effort, both of whom talk with businesses, residents, and event holders alike to “prepare the way for visitors.”  

Together, their goal is to brand, market, and consult for all things “Shelbyville-unique.”  

Many may be familiar with the tourism brand “Experience Tennessee.”  

These four working with SCTTA will help create the brand “Experience Shelbyville,” a project that’s been started from scratch since June.  

Its main goal is to create an image for the area, according French, which includes things like showcasing the area through videography, creating a website, and developing the whiskey, history, and horses theme. French said by the end of the year, they’ll create a portfolio for the City and County to use as recommendations for how they at SCTTA think tourism should be handled here.  

“A large part of our job is making sure we are taking advantage of the opportunities that are actually there,” said French.  

Why Shelbyville’s unique  

Jack Daniel’s is the biggest tourism attraction, to date, in this area, according to French.  

“And Shelbyville-Bedford County is the artery between Nashville and Lynchburg,” French said.  

Those tourists bring dollars to spend to eat, shop, and stay here in the Shelbyville-Bedford area—it’s the bacon from the other’s hog.  

So, the question French asks is ‘what does tourism mean to you?’  

Of course, the Shelbyville-Bedford County area has some great assets, such as the Nearest Green and George Dickel distilleries, the Duck River, dozens of unique local businesses, and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.  

But the most important aspect of marketing the attractions of this area, is identity.  

Many towns make the mistake of wanting to become the next Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, according to Berry.  

Shelbyville is in a really unique position, with a lot of one-day opportunities. The goal for the Shelbyville-Bedford County area, at least for now, is to market the one-day opportunities and make this area the ideal day-trip location (outside of the ten-day Celebration, of course), French explained.  

It’ll help keep Shelbyville-Bedford “authentic.”  

“I think you have to be intentional with that authenticity, which is why you have to understand the opportunities that are available,” said French.  

Businesses and more  

From the “on the ground” work, consulting and advising about those opportunities is vital for tourism, especially for the local businesses.  

“We don’t want to get in the way of re-creating their business model. We want to consult with them on this opportunity to actually grow their business,” said French.  

Think of all the mom-and-pop-shop livelihoods that are not tailored for tourism. Many do not have extended business hours, which is where initiatives like monthly partners calls from SCTTA, step in.  

“That will cover everything from, hey, we signed contract with an amazing photographer, we’re going to send them your way—to, hey, why are you closing at 5 o’clock,” said French.  

Or, for example, making sure businesses know how to optimize the economic impact of an event happening that weekend, and training local employees to recommend visitors where to eat, drink, or tour while visiting, Berry explained.  

Collaboration  

Berry and French also emphasized the need for collaboration among the county, city, businesses, and community.  

“The County, City combined effort in Bell Buckle and Wartrace—they’ve looked at it not just with their individual needs, but they have understood that it’s a collaborative effort to get all this done,” said Berry.  

And, your community needs to be behind those efforts, Berry added. Such collaboration among the County and City for tourism structures—like greenways, sidewalks, and even burying powerlines— parallels the livability for the residents, French said.  

Berry adds, “It’s a great time to be in Shelbyville and to be in Bedford County. You’re seeing an explosion in growth.” 

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