Commissioner Susan Whitaker of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development visited MTSU recently to give campus and community members an opportunity to hear more about Gov. Bill Haslam’s agendas and plans for the tourism industry in Tennessee.
Whitaker, who came to campus as visiting Jennings & Rebecca Jones Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning, spoke to classes in both the Jones College of Business and in the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation.
“She wanted to emphasize that tourism is one of the state’s most vibrant and significant industries, and that for Tennessee, effective heritage tourism is one of the state’s competitive advantages,” said Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation.
Whitaker talked with students and faculty about the ongoing efforts at sustainable cultural tourism in the Smokies and the statewide work for the Civil War sesquicentennial.
She also met with the larger campus community at a reception at the Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau and at a luncheon downtown at the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, where she discussed new partnerships and programs with Murfreesboro Main Street and the Center for Historic Preservation.
“I was very honored to be there as the Jennings chair,” said Whitaker of her March 28 visit. “The campus is just growing. It’s just beautiful.”
Whitaker, who has been commissioner for more than a decade, said she was very impressed with how engaged the students and staff were during her visit as she shared opportunities that tourism provides in entrepreneurial activities.
“The Center (for Historic Preservation) and Dr. Van West have been partners with us for the past decade,” she said.
“The center has been critical in sending students out in the community to learn about the history, and once that’s established, they can in turn offer it to community.”
It’s important that tourists to the Volunteer State know that Tennessee offers more than fishing, Dollywood and the Country Music Awards, Whitaker said, noting that small towns and communities throughout the state provide a rich history that represents “the authentic Tennessee connection. There’s a lot to see in Tennessee.”
She pointed to the Jack Trail, one of 16 self-guided driving tours in Tennessee Tourism’s Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program.
The Jack Trail covers 328 tourism sites across 348 miles, and its stops in Rutherford County include the Stones River Battlefield in Murfreesboro and the Sam Davis Home in Smyrna.
Such stops can easily lead to visits to downtown areas, lesser-known historic sites and even evolving sites such as MTSU, Whitaker said.
“All of that works together,” she said. “I think the center and Dr. Van West have been at the forefront of creating partnerships to take advantage of these opportunities.
“He’s very innovative in the way he approaches his students and subject matter. I think it’s a model for other state agencies to form partnerships with higher education.”
To learn more about the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, visit www.mtsuhistpres.org.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)