UC group launches new billboard campaign to attract tourists

A new billboard campaign by the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association will focus on outdoor attractions like Cummins Falls.

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Tourism officials are taking an outside approach to attracting new visitors to the area.

The Upper Cumberland Tourism Association is launching a billboard campaign that will highlight several of the region’s waterfalls, lakes and trails. It’s the first time UCTA has participated in such advertising. But it’s been a long time coming, said Executive Director Ruth Dyal.

UCTA is partnering with the Upper Cumberland Development District on the project. UCDD recently launched its own branding project for the region. The billboards are just one part of the initiative.

“I think it’s fantastic. I’ve been wanting to do this for years,” Dyal said. “I’m a billboard person. I think, in the right location, it will draw people’s attention to what we have here. Because a lot of times, people have no idea where the Upper Cumberland is.”

Dyal said there will be four “gateway” billboards total – two situated on Interstate 40, eastbound and westbound, and two on Highway 111, north and south – roughly at the region’s entry points.

They will have a simple design – scenery, a logo, and website (uppercumberland.org).

The theme will focus heavily on the outdoors: Welch’s Point, Cummins Falls, the Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park or the recently launched Eagle Cam at Dale Hollow Lake.

Why? “The outdoors is our biggest selling point,” Dyal said. “I think our photos are going to say a million words.”

UCTA will use the billboards in conjunction with its more traditional marketing methods: trade shows, magazine publications and other print and online advertising. Dyal wants to keep the momentum. In 2015, the UC saw 3.52 percent bump in tourism spending. Visitors spent an all-time high $122.15 million in the region, which generated 910 jobs and $18.68 million in payroll. Putnam (16) and Cumberland County (19) ranked among the top 20 counties for tourism dollars in the state.

“Tourism, like everything, you have to find different avenues to catch your customers,” she said. “I think a lot of people are beginning to see its necessity, that tourism dollars actually mean something.”

She declined to cite the cost of the billboard campaign, of which UCTA and UCDD will split. The signs will be active for one year.

Mark Farley, UCDD executive director, said the billboards are considered “a kickoff” to a broader branding campaign his agency is leading. To that effect, they received some funding from USDA Rural Development, and have contracted with WDStone & Associates to fine tune the message. The initial logo includes an image of an owl and the pitch line, “What do UC?” He, too, stressed the outdoor attractions.

“We’re really trying to figure out, how do we identify the region as a whole compared to Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, those three major metropolitan areas?” Farley said. “Our region is very diverse. When you throw in 14 counties, everybody has a little different identity, but we’ve tried to keep it based around the natural beauty, and obviously that’s the common bond between all of them.”