Tourism industry collaborating better than ever before to attract visitors to state
NASHVILLE (press release)—Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Department of Tourist Development, will be departing the administration after dedicating 12 years of leading the department to return to the private sector.
“Susan has done a great job of promoting the unique assets that Tennessee has to offer to visitors from across the country and around the world,” Haslam said. “I am grateful for her leadership and service as we’ve worked to leverage all of the good work happening across the state to attract more people to Tennessee.”
Tourism is one of Tennessee’s largest industries with a $16.7 billion direct economic impact in 2013, a 3.4 percent increase over 2012. State and local tax collections reached a new high of $1.28 billion for tourism related businesses in 2013, which is the eighth consecutive year above $1 billion.
Whitaker has overseen the development and implementation of the state’s comprehensive marketing, public relations and promotions campaigns designed to stimulate growth of tourism in Tennessee including the state’s award-winning consumer website, www.tnvacation.com, and the state’s 15 Welcome Centers.
Under Whitaker’s leadership, the department launched the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program, featuring 16 comprehensive, statewide trails that guide visitors from Tennessee’s big cities to off-the-beaten-path attractions throughout the state. Each of Tennessee’s 95 counties is
included in the Trails program as well as the state’s five National Scenic Byways.
“These past 12 years have afforded me an unparalleled opportunity to work with every sector of the travel industry, both in Tennessee and nationally,” Whitaker said. “Cabinet positions are generally designed for eight year tenures; I have been so blessed to have had the privilege of serving an additional four years under the tremendous leadership of Governor Haslam.
“Working on behalf of the people of Tennessee, especially the talented professionals in the tourism industry, has been enormously satisfying, and I am proud of the huge economic impact tourism is making on this great state.”
Whitaker was named the 2013 National Tourism Director of the Year by the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Travel Directors. As co-chair of Tennessee’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, Whitaker has been a strategic part of planning and overseeing Tennessee’s 150th Civil War commemoration. In preparation for the historic milestone, Whitaker launched the Tennessee Civil War Trails Program. Markers are in place at more than 300 Civil War sites throughout the state with the goal to have the trail into every county.
Whitaker serves as the Secretary of the U.S. Travel Association’s Board of Directors and sits on the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Travel and Tourism Advisory Council. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Council of State Travel Directors, Travel South USA Board of Directors, the University of Tennessee’s Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management Advisory Board, and the Governor’s International Advisory Council.
She serves as the co-chair of Tennessee’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission as well as the Tennessee State Fair Commission and is a member of the Smoky Mountains Park
Commission. In September 2013, Whitaker was appointed to the Civil War Trust Board of Trustees.
Whitaker is a Chicago native and a direct descendent of Tennessee’s first Governor, John Sevier. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
Prior to her cabinet post, Whitaker served as vice president of marketing for Dollywood, Tennessee’s most visited manmade attraction.
She and her husband, Ken, live in Franklin. They have two grown sons and four grandchildren.
Whitaker has agreed to serve in her current role as commissioner until a replacement is named.