To celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week, TDTD’s West Tennessee Division Manager Marty Marbry, conducted a West Tennessee Regional Director’s Tourism Week Writing Contest.
Contestants submitted a written essay explaining why tourism matters to their areas for a chance to win. All writing samples were judged by TDTD. Monica Heath, Jennifer Waldrup and Mayor Jill Holland were announced the winners.
Below is the winning entry:
Re-Imagine McKenzie, Tennessee! After losing eight industries in less than five years, we knew that we had two choices: continue the pity party which would result in the status quo, or make the decision to survive and thrive by doing an about face, and begin looking at our rural West Tennessee city with new eyes. In McKenzie, we chose to Re-Imagine a future that focused on travel tourism, realizing that a community which attracts tourists will also open doors to recruit new industry, business, families, and retirees. Our city Re-Imagined and embraced a holistic approach of travel tourism which requires open minds thinking out of the box, creating new opportunities, while enhancing those that already exist. Under our tourism umbrella is a multitude of genres, events and projects, each focusing on attracting new visitors into McKenzie. Renewed focus was placed upon our existing Gordon Browning Genealogical Museum, bringing over 1,000 visitors each year exploring their ancestry. The deteriorating Park Theatre was renovated to its 1940's former glory, and our historic train depot was refurbished to obtain new status as the economic hub of McKenzie in addition to housing the new McKenzie Welcome Station and Train Museum.
Next door, children from throughout West Tennessee and beyond visit the train-themed Splash Pad Park and will soon experience the musical harmony enrichment park. Capitalizing on the everyday simple joys of our southern culture, deeply rooted in patriotism, food and music, led to the creation of Nights on Broadway, the Southern Fried and Sweet Tea Festival, Freedom Festival, Boo Bash, Scarecrow Grove and A Mistletoe Christmas, featuring the World's Largest Mistletoe Ball. A combined total of over 10,000 visitors attend tourism events which are scattered throughout the year. The new focus on travel tourism has incentivized new restaurants, food trucks, and gift shops which are benefiting from the additional visitors. This year, McKenzie celebrates its 150th birthday. Beard growing contests, cemetery tours, craft shows, women suffragette reenactments, and reunions lure visitors back to create new memories of their favorite hometown. Businesses are capitalizing on marketing their souvenirs and memorabilia memorializing this momentous occasion.
The losses experienced from the recession forced us to Re-Imagine our future. No more could we solely depend upon the factories of the past to economically sustain our city. A new direction in travel tourism was imagined and realized. Is it working? We know it is. We have seen the numbers increase for jobs, and sales tax revenue, and the new businesses popping up throughout the city. We have heard from new homeowners whose move from Washington State or Florida was motivated by the website depicting a vibrant downtown, and tourism events for the city. Travel tourism creates experiences that are permanently etched into the memory albums of our lives. The Bethel University freshman from New York State attending the Southern Fried and Sweet Tea Festival, will always remember his first sip of sweet tea ,and his friend is wary, but pleasantly surprised when she crunches into her first fried Kudzo chip. And then, there are those who may never travel outside of Carroll County, but tourism within our rural town has forever enriched their lives and expanded their horizons, as is the childhood of the small, tow-headed, four-year-old boy who walked from his neighborhood two blocks away from the Splash Pad Park. While darting among the sprinklers, he was heard loudly announcing to his tired parents cooling off in the late afternoon shade, "This is the best place in the world!" and they responded, "We think so, too."