Perhaps, as they say, nothing is certain but death and taxes. It seems, though, that tourism revenue in Tennessee -- and Hamilton County -- while not certain is a pretty reliable source of income for residents, for businesses and for the bank accounts of government agencies across the state. That's welcome in good economic times. It's especially gratifying at the present time, when economic difficulties are the order of the day.
Tennessee certainly does well from tourism. The Tennessee Department of Tourism and Development reports that visitors to the state spent about $14.1 billion last year. That's an increase of more than 6 percent in spending over 2009. Moreover, everyone in the state shares in the benefits. State officials report that each of the state's 95 counties had increases in tourism dollars from 2009 to last year.
For beleaguered state taxpayers, the influx of tourist dollars is good news. State and local government collected about $1 billion in state and local tax revenue for the fifth consecutive year in 2010, according to state officials. That's money that augments funds gathered through the levy of various in-state taxes. The influx of outside money helps provide a significant amount of money for state and local government, thereby relieving some pressure on Tennesseans' pocketbooks.
Hamilton County is a major example of the importance of tourist dollars. Officials report that tourism generated about $760 million annually in the past. That number is likely to increase this year, if current trends continue. Through June, officials say, county tourism-related revenues continued to grow at a double digit rate in the period from June 2010 to June 2011. Indeed, officials report, Chattanooga's tourism growth outstripped competitors such as Atlanta, Ga., and Asheville, N.C., in that time period.
Chattanooga and Hamilton County's varied attractions are a major part of the state's tourist attractions. The Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline are tried-and-true favorites. Cultural offerings, historic sites, sports facilities and an ever-expanding list of scenic and outdoor venues bring increasing numbers of visitors to the community, as well. All complement other state attractions such as Dollywood, Graceland. Opryland, the Bristol Motor Speedway and a growing network of well-designed and highly promoted scenic and historic driving trails.
Tourism dollars aren't free for the asking. The state does invest heavily in promoting tourism -- more than $6 million in marketing, this year. Still, that's sound policy even in tough economic times. The appropriation on what is Tennessee's second largest industry consistently brings hordes of tourists and hundreds of millions of dollars to the state. That's an excellent return on the investment.