The Harlan County Chamber of Commerce was advised on the benefits of membership in the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association during a meeting on Wednesday.
Carl Nichols, a representative of the CGRTA, addressed the group.
“We’re starting a new project,” Nichols said. “The Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association. It brings in the 10 counties that are within the 25 mile radius of Cumberland Gap.”
Nichols explained the overall purpose of the organization is for collaboration among the ten counties of Harlan, Bell, Knox and Whitley counties in Kentucky, Lee County in Virginia and Claiborne, Campbell, Union, Grainger and Hancock counties in Tennessee.
“We feel there is more strength together than there is with the 10 counties separated,” Nichols said. “That is our overall function, is to work together to increase our tourism and tourism development within these 10 counties.”
Nichols said funding for the organization is through membership fees, sponsorship fees and local, state and federal grants.
“The future of tourism is in adventure tourism,” Nichols said. “Back when I was a child, vacation was going to grandma’s house…what people want to do now is canoeing and kayaking and ATV riding and zip lining, those kinds of things. Adventure tourism is where it is going to in the very near future.”
Nichols said in the 10-county region, the latest economic impact report showed $13 billion came into Kentucky through tourism spending. He pointed out only a small percentage of that money came into the counties included in the 10-county region.
“We can do better than that,” Nichols said. “If we work together, we can do better…one of the big things we want to do with the CGRTA is to promote events.”
Nichols explained many in the 10 counties have not heard of events in the other counties in the region.
“We’re failing because we’re not promoting each county just here among ourselves,” Nichols said. “If these 10 counties knew the Poke Sallet Festival was coming up, how many more people would you have in attendance?”
Nichols said the CGRTA would like to make the Cumberland Gap region a destination that tourists will “drive to…not drive through.”
“We really want this to work,” Nichols said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Nichols said the grand opening event for the organization is planned for Sept. 10 in downtown Cumberland Gap.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde.