KINGSPORT - Tennessee's tourism commissioner joined the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association Wednesday for the 10th annual Pinnacle Awards to recognize efforts to promote tourism around the region.
"I put this on my calendar every year," said Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. "This is one of the things I do not miss because I am so proud of Northeast Tennessee and NETTA for taking time to actually recognize the people who are promoting the industry to let people know what is here."
Held at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort and Convention Center, the Pinnacle Awards kicked off the start of local activities for National Tourism Week, an annual event designed to raise awareness of the nation's $12 billion tourism industry.
Whitaker said she's a big believer in marketing the state's tourism assets.
"You can have the best things in the world, but if people don't know about them, they're not going to come and enjoy them," she said.
She said the Pinnacle Awards ceremony, which pays tribute to individuals, businesses and organizations for exemplary quality and performance in tourism development and promotion, is tourism's "premier event for the entire state of Tennessee."
"It sets the bar higher and higher," she said.
Awards were handed out in five categories, with divisions in each category.
In the Special Events category, the winner in the Hospitality Organizations Division was the Greene County Partnership Tourism Development for the Antique Appraisal Fair & Show. The winner in the Cultural Arts Division was Barter Theatre for An Evening with Garrison Keillor. In the Entertainment & Recreation Division, the winner was Bristol Motor Speedway for August Race Week at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the Municipalities Division, the winner was Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department for Lakeside Cinemas. And in the Business Division, the winner was the Bristol Herald Courier and TriCities.com for the Spring NASCAR Racing Edition "The Heavyweights/The Lightweights."
Three merit awards were also given in the Special Events category. Those awards went to the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau for the AAU Girls Basketball 12 & Under National Championship; the UMOJA/UNITY Committee for the UMOJA/UNITY Festival; and Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway for Speedway in Lights Powered by TVA.
In the Special Projects category, the winner in the Hospitality Organizations Division was the Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau for Bristol TN/VA Laying Down the Tracks ... Living Up to Legends media kit. The winner in the Cultural Arts Division was Barter Theatre for Milton's Guide - The Barter Theatre Informational Kiosk. In the Entertainment & Recreation Division, the winner was Jonesborough Kiwanis for Jonesborough Storytelling Keepsake. The winner in the Heritage Tourism Division was the William King Regional Arts Center for Virginia Collects: Art from Capitol Square. And in the Business Division, the winner was the Bristol Herald Courier for "Only in Appalachia: What's Unique in Our Backyard."
The three merit award winners in the Special Projects category went to Sycamore Hatituders Red Hat Organization for Red Hatters "Serious Business"; the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance for Mountain Stage; and the Bristol Herald Courier for "101 Things to Do: A Guide to Day Trips in Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Eastern Kentucky."
In the Advertising & Promotions - Print category, the winner in the Hospitality Organizations Division was the Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau for the Bristol Visitors Guide. The winner in the Accommodations category was the General Morgan Inn for Come Write Your Own Story print campaign. In the Cultural Arts Division, the winner was the Virginia Highlands Festival for its 2006 marketing campaign, "Come Home to the Virginia Highlands." In the Heritage Tourism Division, the winner was the William King Regional Arts Center for its 2006 advertising campaign. In the Municipalities Division, the winner was the town of Jonesborough for "Historic Jonesborough ... What a Story This Town Can Tell" promotional brochure. And in the Business Division, the winner was Hillhouse Graphic Design for the National Storytelling Festival campaign.
The two merit award winners in the Advertising & Promotions - Print category went to Appalachian GhostWalks for "Appalachian GhostWalks and Ghost Tours' Spook and Save"; and Hillhouse Graphic Design for the International Storytelling Center's Tellers-in-Residence campaign.
The winner in the Advertising & Promotions - Multi-Media category went to the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire for A! Magazine for the Arts: Print Edition, Web site, and E-mail Digest.
In the Public Relations category, the Pinnacle went to the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau for the CBS Early Show "Great American Vacation Giveaway."
Finally, Abingdon resident Ben Jennings was given a Pinnacle in the Volunteer category for his service during the past 30 years in tourism-related projects and promotions.
NETTA Executive Director Claudia Moody said the region has made significant strides in tourism efforts in recent years.
"Our mission has been successful, but it is not complete," she said.
She said NETTA is preparing to launch a new Web site to help accomplish its marketing and promotional goals to attract more visitors to the region. The Web site, at www.netta.com, showcases area events and attractions, and includes weekly podcasts, geocache information and a blog.
Title sponsor of the Pinnacle Awards was Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.