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A visitor sports a Rock City hat while visiting the Ruby Falls gift shop.

Tourism totals

Hamilton County

• $934.6 million in travel expenditures in 2013, up 2 percent from 2012

• $91.1 million in payroll income

• 5,900 jobs

Tennessee overall

• $27.3 billion in 2013, up 3.3 percent from 2012

• $5.7 billion in payroll income

• 236,200 jobs

Source: 2013 totals, U.S. Travel Association research department prepared for U.S. Travel Association

Tourism spending in Tennessee grew last year at twice the overall inflation rate, helping to support about one of every 20 jobs in the Volunteer State, according to a new U.S. Travel study.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday that the state's tourism industry grew by 3.3 percent in 2013 to more than $27 billion, including $934.5 million in spending in Hamilton County. The industry employs 236,200 workers in Tennessee.

To sustain and grow that number, Haslam told the Governor's Conference on Hospitality & Tourism Friday the state needs to continue to support taxpayer advertising and marketing campaigns. In a state with no income tax, Tennessee relies heavily on sales and other taxes, and tourism is a prime generator of those revenues, he said.

Tennessee officials recently signed a five-year, $60 million contract with a Kansas City, Mo., firm to produce the "Made in Tennessee" tourism campaign.

The marketing agency VML, which has opened a Nashville office, produced two 30-second TV commercials promoting getting outdoors in Tennessee. The ads feature dramatic waterfalls, green rolling hills and horseback-riding amid a forest scene. The ads will play in about a dozen markets around the country.

Haslam took issue with a recent editorial in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper urging the governor to trim some of the spending on the Department of Tourist Development and divert more state funds to needed social programs.

Cutting tourism promotions, Haslam said, would be like telling a newspaper to stop spending money on its advertising department.

"Pretty soon those ads are going to go away," he said.

Tourism revenues support government programs that people rely on, Haslam said.

"Government is really more important to folks from the middle income level down," the governor told more than 500 industry leaders in Knoxville on Friday. "They need our help and services more than anyone. When you do great work, it helps not just your business but it helps people across the state do things that are really needed."

Susan Whitaker, commissioner for the state Department of Tourist Development, said if tourism efforts continue to receive strong funding, they'll be able to hit their goal of making Tennessee into the top 10 states for tourism. Right now, in terms of revenue, Tennessee is ranked 17th.

"Tennessee's tourism industry experienced major growth in 2013 and is continuing to set new records across the state in 2014," Whitaker said. "This means more dollars that can be used for education, public safety and other essential services for all the citizens of Tennessee."

The tourism spending gains in Hamilton County in 2013 were not as great as the statewide averages. Hamilton County tourism spending rose 2 percent in 2013, or only two thirds as much as the rest of the state. In the previous three years, tourism spending rose a combined 32 percent in Hamilton County, pushing Hamilton County above Knox County in tourism spending in each of those years. Chattanooga trails only Nashville, Memphis and Gatlinburg in the amount spent by visitors and conventioneers.

"We continue to invest in advertising, marketing and incentives for conventions and we never took our foot off the gas during the economic downturn," said Bob Doak, president of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We didn't see as big of gain last year, but we're seeing healthy gains in 2014 and we're still on pace to top $1 billion in tourism spending this year for the first time."

The improved statewide numbers reflect a concerted effort by a lot of people to promote Tennessee, said Greg Adkins, president and CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. A tourism industry committee put together by Gov. Bill Haslam, for example, has invested some $12 million over the last two years and "has had a tremendous impact."

"We have a lot of momentum," said Adkins, who is a member of the governor's committee. "One thing that's evident with Tennessee is that we have a really strong brand, and I think that will continue to increase."

This story was compiled by reports from the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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