Visitors bureau leader predicts Hamilton County tourism revenue will double to $2 billion [video]

Visitors bureau leader predicts Hamilton County tourism revenue will double to $2 billion [video]

September 15th, 2016 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/22/16. Spectators watch as competitors cross the Walnut Street Bridge during the 2016 Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 event in downtown Chattanooga on Sunday, May 22.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Bob Doak, the President and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, predicts Hamilton County's $1 billion tourism industry will double to $2 billion in less than 15 years.

Bob Doak, the President and CEO of the...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

In 2000, Bob Doak predicted that the then $500 million financial impact of Hamilton County's tourism industry would double.

Doak said he made that "crazy" prediction to a newspaper reporter after he was elected as the volunteer chairman of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) board of directors.

"The paper ran with it, and made my claim the headline of the story," Doak told a ballroom full of people gathered at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the CVB's 75th annual luncheon.

"Crazy or not, the prediction came true 15 years later," he said. "My dream is that we will double our visitor spending once again — to an incredible $2 billion. And this time, it won't take 15 years, because I know the people in this room will continue to dream big, plan big and build big."

Since it's the CVB's 75th anniversary, Doak spoke about changes from 25, 50 and 75 years ago that have drawn more tourists to the greater Chattanooga area.

For example, 25 years ago in 1991, he said the Tennessee Aquarium was not yet open downtown, Jack's Alley "was nothing but boarded up buildings," and baseball was available, but "only at the venerable Engel Stadium."

A highlight of Doak's speech was a spoof video — a tradition at CVB luncheons — that poked fun at the supposed lack of Chattanooga's tourist attractions in 1941 when the bureau was organized. In newsreel style of the day, the video showed dinnertime river cruises in a rowboat, cited as a riverfront attraction the Tennessee Terrarium, a breadbox-sized glass box that held frogs, and claimed the Riverbend Festival then starred Willie Nelson and 38 Special.

Narrated by Jim Kennedy, the video had cameos of local personalities including vintage auto tire manufacturer Corky Coker, Rock City owner Bill Chapin, and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Doak made a point of thanking Coppinger and county commissioners first in his speech for their financial support, which is budgeted at $7.8 million in the 2017 fiscal year, a 20 percent increase from $6.5 million the previous fiscal year.

It's hotel and motel tax that the county passes through, Coppinger said after the event.

"We give 100 percent of that money to the CVB," he said.

The funding has increased, the mayor said, because of an increase in tourism and people staying overnight in Hamilton County.

"There's always been a steady growth in that fund," Coppinger said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.