History, distilleries, antiques draw 1.3 million visitors to county


History, distilleries, antiques draw 1.3 million visitors to county

It’s been another record-breaking year for tourism in Williamson County.

And Visit Franklin CEO Ellie Westman Chin knows its only a sign she should keep motivating herself and stakeholders and finding new ways forward.

Having success means keeping it, and here’s Westman Chin’s reflection of 2016 and transitioning into a new year.

What has been best the best part 2016?

The new hospitality program at Columbia State has definitely been a highlight. We had a record number of visitors of 1.3 million and had a record number of people come through the visitors center. We had the Leiper’s Fork distillery come online and hotels open.

I know you’re in the middle of your fiscal year, so what is in the works for 2017?

Implementing the strategic plan is big for us. So, one of the first year initiatives was meeting with all of the communities and speaking with them about expanding about the product we have here. They go and come from Franklin, but we then want them to go to Thompson’s Station or send them to Nolensville. We want to work throughout all of the communities and expand the product to stay in our county. That’s big for us.

There’s a lot happening next year, as well. Pilgrimage will be in it’s third year. They are important because it draws media, international and national attention. We are hoping the WSM tower will be open for tours, so those fans can see the start of the Opry. First Tennessee Bank building is under construction and should have some restaurants come online. We hope to see the groundbreaking of Harpeth Hotel. We get a lot of questions from visitors for a day trip, who would like to stay in downtown Franklin and walk around. They want a walking hotel. I think the public arts commission will also be plus for us. We hopefully move that forward to getting that created because public art is a real draw for Franklin.

What are you wanting to work on as we start the new year?

One things you’ve heard me say a million times is we love being 20 minutes south of Nashville, but we want to continue to work on our brand. We need to have our own brand so people know Franklin. That’s a big thing we will work on in the coming years. 

We are a young bureau. We will be 10 years old next year. That growth we continue to experience of wider and bigger promotion is something we will continue to discuss with our staff and board.

Nashville’s historic streak of 70 consecutive months of record-breaking tourism has come to an end. How does that affect Franklin and Williamson County?

Therein lies the reason we created a four-year strategic plan. It’s been fun to have the ‘it city’ but it doesn’t last forever. As Nashville opens more hotels and the compression isn’t as big, we need to figure out how we stand on our two feet. So the strategic plan is our response to that happening.

Franklin does have its own successes and attractions. How do you continue build and shatter your own records for tourism year after year?

It’s important we don’t rest on our laurels, and we continue to grow and respond to the market. It’s important we grow and market to respond to digital. How do we always stay on the cutting edge of destination tourism and thinking big picture and looking forward? You have to recognize challenges, grow and learn from that to keep moving forward.

Emily West covers Franklin, education, and the state legislature for the Franklin Home Page. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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