Tourism spending in Tennessee counties in 2011:
* Davidson - $4.2 billion
* Shelby - $3.05 billion
* Sevier - $1.5 billion
* Hamilton - $893.3 million
* Knox - $884.2 million
Source: Travel Industry Association of America
Tourism spending in Hamilton County by year:
2011 - $893.3 million
2010 - $810.1 million
2009 - $736.5 million
2008 - $762.1 million
2007 - $710.4 million
Source: Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau
Dan Bettinger said Friday he'd heard about Chattanooga during his two years in Knoxville and finally got a chance to see the Scenic City this week.
"My co-workers talk about it all the time," he said outside the Tennessee Aquarium. "I've seen the commercials. They make it look neat."
Spending by tourists such as Bettinger and his wife and daughter is up in Hamilton County. For the first time ever, tourism spending in Hamilton has moved ahead of Knox County's, according to new figures.
Hamilton pushed into fourth place among counties statewide based on 2011 tourism spending of $893.3 million, numbers from the Travel Industry Association of America show. Knox recorded $884.2 million, the group reported.
Davidson continues to lead the state, followed by Shelby and Sevier.
Bob Doak, the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau's chief executive, said Hamilton has trailed Knox for as long as figures have been kept.
"The whole community has worked hard to build what we have," he said. "We have had incredible God-given attractions, and the man-made attractions have been planned very carefully."
Thom Benson, the aquarium's communications manager, said the attraction marking its 20th anniversary this year has helped it have "a pretty strong season."
But, he said local attractions work with the CVB to promote the city as a destination to help tourism overall. He said, for example, that Atlanta is an expensive market for TV commercials. Benson said the aquarium works with the CVB, which drops in a 10-second ad about the attraction into TV spots.
Tourism spending in Hamilton County in 2011 was up 10.3 percent over the previous year, figures show. Spending in Knox County was up as well, but not as much, about 8.8 percent.
In Hamilton County, local tax receipts from tourism dollars also rose last year -- to $19.1 million, according to figures.
"Tourists enjoy what we have," Doak said.
Connie Dailey, of Atlanta, was outside the aquarium on Friday visiting a friend. She said she grew up in St. Elmo and moved away in the 1970s.
"I'd move here in a heartbeat," Dailey said.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...