Kevin Triplett, Tennessee Tourism development commissioner, took his first tour of the Wilson County Fair while the fair was in full operation and spoke about his experience with county leaders during a dinner Wednesday night.
“I texted my wife and told her I want to live in a town like this,” Triplett said of Fiddlers Grove.
“You have a jewel here. This is an amazing – this is a county fair that, from what I’ve read, is bigger than 17 state fairs. If you put that on a list, this would be the 33rd largest state fair in the country, and it’s a county fair. Think about that,” Triplett said.
Wilson County Promotions president Randall Clemons said on any given night, the Wilson County Fair could have visitors from as many as 19 states.
“That’s tourism economic impact,” said Triplett, who said Tennessee is now a top-10 travel destination state in the country.
The commissioner’s visit came a day after the state released its 2016 tourism statistics.
Tennessee tourism’s direct domestic and international travel expenditures reached an all-time record high of $19.3 billion in 2016, up 4.7 percent from the previous year, as reported by the U.S. Travel Association.
For the 11th consecutive year, tourism topped $1 billion in state and local sales tax revenue, reaching $1.7 billion. All 95 counties saw more than $1 million in direct travel expenditures in the economic impact of tourism and 19 counties saw more than $100 million, with Wilson County seeing about $150 million in direct travel expenditures.
Jenny Bennett, Wilson County tourism director, said Wilson County’s location, attractions and hometown feel contribute to the county’s current and potential future success.
“Our proximity is our selling feature in the sense that within 30 minutes, our guests can be here and experience life on a farm, agriculture and things they’ve probably never experienced,” Bennett said.
Wilson County ranks 12th out of 95 counties for tourism, according to Bennett. She said the wide variety of attractions, such as the Sellars Farm archaeological site and Jug Creek Distillery, make Wilson County attractive to all people.
“I think that’s helped drive people to a real rural setting,” Bennett said of Jug Creek. “It feels like you’re in the foothills of the Smokies, but you’re still in Wilson County. Here go people from Canada, Mexico and all over, because they’re on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.”
Bennett said the future of tourism in Wilson County would be shaped by storytelling.
“We have so many mom and pop businesses here. I think that’s a great story to tell. We have a great history with the Sellars Farm archaeological site and other things. We have fascinating stories, and we just have to work harder at telling the stories and letting people know,” she said.