How Tennessee, USA Uses Scenic Byways to Draw Urban Visitors to Its Rural Town Delights.

by Joanne Steele on November 6, 2009


There are literally thousands of scenic byways all over the US that were designated in part as an economic development tool to attract visitors to underutilized rural regions.

Tennessee has discovered a way to overcome a major obstacle  – getting people ONTO the scenic byway in the first place. Typically a byway starts and ends in rural settings, and visitors must make an effort to find and get onto the byway.

Here’s what other states and regions can learn from Tennessee:

03trails-2Lesson #1: Start where visitors already are.

The brand new “Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways” program takes people from the tourist attractions in urban areas out into the countryside.

Each of the 15 new trails starts in a city and loops through the beautiful Tennessee countryside, taking people to little known towns, historic sites, music venues and unique attractions.

Lesson #2: Give visitors a reason to take the trail.

This is the real genius of Tennessee’s plan. People come to Tennessee for the music. They love the mountains and the beauty and the hiking and history. But when you come to Tennessee you want to hear great music

Each of the 15 trail stresses that connection. On the web site, Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways,  besides the downloadable map and brochure, you’ll find a music playlist you can load onto your IPod to listen to as you drive the trail! You need to buy these, of course, which helps to support their musicians. Who can resist!

Lesson #3: Use someone everyone knows, who has a real connection to your product, as your spokesperson.

The hugely popular band, Rascal Flatts, is helping to promote the program. I love this quote:

“While music is showcased from Beale Street to Broadway to Bristol, said Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatt, “its roots often come from our back roads and small towns, and as songwriters, it’s largely what inspires us. So we’re honored to be a part of this program that showcases that ‘Life Is A Highway,’ promoting life in Tennessee with scenic drives and true inspiration. And we’re certain you’ll be able to experience some incredible music on your journey, heard from general stores, front porches and other unexpected places along the way.”

Every country music lover is going to be driving these trails with their windows open listening for the next Rascal Flatts!

Lesson#4:  Stay in control of the branding.

The Tennessee Tourism folks want every small community in the state to be involved in the promotion of these trails.

They have a slogan: “Get Your Backstage Pass” (note the connection to music and performance here.)

They have their song, the Rascal Flatts hit, “Life is a Highway” (again, we have the music playing a big part of the marketing).

They have a branding starter kit including dynamic trail names and logos such as” Proud Mary”, “Ring of Fire” and “Walking Tall”(all song titles) as well as brochures, the web site and a complete media plan including television, print and Internet.

Any small town can get into the act using these high quality products to attract visitors to their little spot on a trail. The kit helps them work effectively using methods to support the brand.

In addition, anyone can get onto the Trails’ Facebook fan page and offer more ideas for trail stops and marketing ideas. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen stressed that it was a private citizen who came up with the ideas for this project in the first place.

Lesson# 5: Focus on what makes you unique.

Anybody who has ever been to Tennessee knows it’s beautiful, full of arts and culture and history, and great for adventure and recreation. But so is every other state in the United States.

What Tennessee is doing with this program is to start with what is unique about them and SUPPORTING that with the arts and history and adventure and everything else.

When I was in Tennessee last month, I made a point to seek out the opry music in the countryside. But that wouldn’t have been quite enough to keep me there very long. The culture and craft and Civil War history also located along those back roads added immeasurably to my experience and kept me busy for two solid weeks.

Thanks Tennessee Tourism. Good Luck – this is a fantastic salute to the value of rural tourism.

Previous post:

Next post: