Episode 99

“One of My Personal Favorite Destinations”Kim Bumpas

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About Our Guest

Kim Bumpas

In this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Adam catches up with one of his personal favorite destinations: Knoxville, Tennessee. Kim Bumpas, President at Visit Knoxville, joins the show to talk all about the importance of the visitor experience and why maintaining a unified front as a destination is so important. Listen and learn how to achieve this cohesiveness as well as hear about some of Knoxville's strategies to attain this goal.

"You've got to prove to your stakeholders, city, and county that you're in it just as much as they are, and you're not just here to depend on hotel tax collections, but you're here to contribute as well." -Kim Bumpas

Episode Highlights

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Kim Bumpas
  • Position: President at Visit Knoxville
  • Favorite Destination: Quebec, Canada & St. Thomas, Carribean
  • Dream Destination: Knoxville, Tennessee

“One of My Personal Favorite Destinations” – Show Notes and Highlights

Show Highlights:

  • Knoxville is genuinely a really friendly place and works with stakeholders to try to tell that story. It has a little bit of everything, from a colorful history, outdoor experience and music.
  • An advocate and partner to the University of Tennessee and the program Gotta Know Knoxville which gives free training to frontline tourism providers. 
  • Gotta Know Knoxville is an in-person training with a board session and a walking tour. 
  • Non-tourism businesses also take part in the Gotta Know Knoxville program because they believe it makes their job easier. 
  • Kim talks about her background from being in the hotel industry to the destination marketing industry.
  • Knoxville together with its committed partners, leaders and private stakeholders built the infrastructure assets to enhance the visitor experience.
  • Knoxville as a college town is a key economic driver for the destination. Allocating partnership funds and marketing opportunities through partnership with the athletics department leverage that asset to promote tourism. 
  • Adam points out that commitment in providing equal value to partners in the destination is important. 
  • ROI is calculated through products like Adara and Arrivalist data. 
  • Changes done during the pandemic: 
  1. Leading the state recovery 
  2. Pushed the outdoor activities in East Tennessee 
  3. Focused on drivability and opened the door to outdoor-friendly visitation
  • Kim advises other DMOs to think outside the box no matter how hard you get hit during a crisis. 
  • Future plans of Knoxville are a baseball stadium near downtown and lots of hotel projects and renovations.


Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

Episode Transcript

Kim Bumpas: [00:00:00] You’ve got to prove to your stakeholders and to your city and to your county that you’re in it just as much as they are, and you’re not just here to depend on hotel-motel tax collections, that you’re here to contribute as well.


Adam Stoker: [00:00:15] Okay, guys, since we started the Destination Marketing Podcast a little over a year ago, I’ve had several destinations reach out and say, “Hey, could you help me start a podcast?” And at first, we were kind of like, “Well, no, that’s not really what we do.” But after enough requests, we said, “You know what? Let’s explore this.” And we’ve created a turnkey program for destinations, where we will produce, we will host, we will edit, and we will publish your podcast for your destination on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis, and all you have to do is show up and answer some questions. We’re really excited about this program. We’ve got a few destinations that have been doing really, really well with their podcasts. 


If you’ve ever thought about creating a podcast for your destination, but you don’t have all the equipment or you don’t have the expertise or any of that type of stuff, let us take that off your hands. Let Relic handle your podcast creation and production, and all you have to do is show up and answer questions about all the amazing things there are to do within your destination. So let me know if you’re interested. Email me at adam@relicagency.com, and we’ll get you set up on this podcast program.

Hell, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. I’m excited to be with you today. We have a great guest for you today. We’ve been doing the Destination Marketing podcast on the road now for a couple of weeks, and this is a destination that I was dying to get to in person, and we just had a hard time matching up our schedules. But the great thing about it she was super willing to accommodate and schedule a follow-up time where I’m not there in person, but we still get to chat. So I’m with Kim Bumpas. And Kim is with the Knoxville Convention and Tourism Bureau. And Kim, welcome to the show.


Kim Bumpas: [00:02:15] Thank you for having me. I’m excited we’re finally getting a chance to chat.


Adam Stoker: [00:02:20] Yeah, this is a long time in the making, isn’t it?


Kim Bumpas: [00:02:23] It has been. It’s crazy. I feel like with digital meetings, you’re almost booked up more now than when it was in person.


Adam Stoker: [00:02:32] Yeah, people almost feel more comfortable scheduling meetings on your calendar now than they did when you had to be there in person.


Kim Bumpas: [00:02:38] This is true. And they start a lot earlier. They’re like, “Oh, let’s just jump on at 7:00 am.” I’m like, “Let’s not.” 


Adam Stoker: [00:02:45] Yeah, exactly. You know, Kim, I’m excited to chat with you because you’re one of the few people that I’ve been able to have on the show that I’ve experienced your destination as a true visitor and not in my capacity, whether it’s for my agency or for the podcast. I got to experience Knoxville as a consumer. And I was so impressed with so many things, and we’ll talk about it today, I’m really excited to chat about it. But I came in 2019 for the Tennessee versus BYU football game, so it was last, I think, early September, I think it was Labor Day weekend that we came out last year, and just had the time of our lives. And we’ll talk all about that trip. I had some amazing experiences. But I am so excited to dive into Knoxville today.


Kim Bumpas: [00:03:35] Good deal. Well, it is my favorite subject matter, so I’m ready.


Adam Stoker: [00:03:40] You’re in the right role then. And Kim, actually what is your title there at the office?


Kim Bumpas: [00:03:47] Yeah, definitely. I am the President of Visit Knoxville, which is kind of our DBA.


Adam Stoker: [00:03:53] Perfect. Perfect. Well, before we dive in, I want to ask you some of these icebreaker questions that we like to ask at the beginning of the show. So if you could go anywhere in the world, Kim, what is your dream destination?


Kim Bumpas: [00:04:06] That’s a good question, and you’re going to probably roll your eyes at the answer, but it technically really is Knoxville, Tennessee. So I know we’ll dive into a little bit about me at some point, but with that said, I’ve traveled all over the world, and nothing ever spoke to me like the water and the mountains of East Tennessee. So really, Knoxville kind of puts everything that I love as a person into one place.


Adam Stoker: [00:04:33] You know what? I like that answer. And you did cheat, that’s absolutely cheating here to name your own destination. 


Kim Bumpas: [00:04:42] You know it.


Adam Stoker: [00:04:42] But just to help us get to know you a little bit, give me another destination that maybe you haven’t been that’s on your list.


Kim Bumpas: [00:04:48] Yeah, obviously I love the Caribbean. If you’re going to get me out of Knoxville, you have to give me something that I can’t find here. So typically, that equates to the ocean. And then as far as traveling abroad, I probably haven’t done a ton of that in my whole life, so there are always those milestone opportunities. And I also really love Canada. So if that helps you give a little bit, I’m super outdoor-driven, so mountains, oceans, that sort of thing is what kind of gets me excited.


Adam Stoker: [00:05:27] Yeah, you’ve got a well-rounded travel palette, it sounds like. 


Kim Bumpas: [00:05:32] I do. Working in the industry, you’re obviously exposed to a lot, and sometimes you travel there and sometimes you don’t. But it really does help you kind of sharpen your likes and dislikes. So I don’t really hang out in the neutral ground of, “Oh, that sounds great.” I’m pretty definitive on what I like and what I don’t like.


Adam Stoker: [00:05:52] That’s good. And a lot of that’s shaped by where you’ve been. And so let’s talk about one of your favorite trips, not Knoxville, to be clear, but one of your favorite trips that you’ve ever been on.


Kim Bumpas: [00:06:04] One of my most favorite trips was probably Quebec in Canada, and that was a family trip. And it was just almost like an out-of-body experience because you got to eat mayonnaise with your French fries, and there was not ice in any drink that I ordered. So it was really, really different, but very eye-opening at a younger age, which kind of exposed me to travel and interest me. And of course, I already mentioned the Caribbean. My most favorite place in the world is St. Thomas, and I’ve been there quite a bit. Super fun, loved the water. So those would probably be my top two.


Adam Stoker: [00:06:47] Great. So when you were in… Give me one of each place, so Quebec and then St. Thomas, tell me kind of your favorite activity or excursion that you did while you were there.


Kim Bumpas: [00:06:59] Definitely Quebec was a bicycle ride through, I wouldn’t call it mountains because I live in East Tennessee, but there it was definitely almost like forest level, with waterfalls, very remote, which is something that I think people take for granted because we’re always surrounded by cars and different things that you almost don’t even pay attention to them, they’re just a part of your life so you act like they’re not there until you’re truly in a place where they don’t really exist within that experience. So that was super meaningful to me. And then St. Thomas, of course snorkeling, love it, love it, love it. Took a kayak trip where we then snorkeled and got to go into kind of some remote caves, which was really cool.


Adam Stoker: [00:07:51] Sounds amazing. I can’t decide which one sounds better. Both of those trips sound incredible, and they’re kind of polar opposites, aren’t they?


Kim Bumpas: [00:07:57] They were, which is I think kind of why I love them the most and why they probably stick in my memory. And I don’t always do that. I’m also very much a traveler, if I go on vacation or I’m going someplace, I could be that person that’s just like, “Oh my gosh, we do events all the time, I just want to sit and kind of stare at a wall.” So having those excursions was really important.


Adam Stoker: [00:08:23] Great. So let’s talk about my experience in Knoxville when I was there. Because I think one of the most important components of a destination’s brand, if not the most important component, is the actual visitor experience when somebody goes there. And I want to share with you a couple of things about my experience when I came to Knoxville and had such an impact on me that I actually included it even in my book and talked a little bit about my experience there. So there are a couple of things that happened. Probably the most impactful thing that happened for me when I said, “Okay, Knoxville is different and I’ve got find out some of the things that are happening on the backend,” is that I was sitting at the restaurant Stock and Barrel, which by the way, the little square that you guys have downtown where all those little restaurants are, you’ve got music playing out on the square, the atmosphere, especially on a game day, is just unreal. 

And we went down to Stock & Barrel, we ate an amazing burger that had blueberry jam on it of all things, and it was incredible. And I asked the waiter at the end of the meal, I said, “Hey, we’d love to see your dessert menu.” And this guy, his name was Josh, I’ll never forget it, he says, “You know what, you guys, we’ve got great desserts here. But if you’re only going to be in Knoxville for a couple of days, you’ve got to go down to Cruze Family Farms and try their ice cream. I would recommend doing that instead of having the dessert here.” And all of our minds were just blown. What private business says, “Hey, you know what? We don’t want to take your money. We want some other private business to get your money.” That is such a unique thing that happened. And you know what? We went down to Cruze Family Farms, and I liked it so much that even though you and I didn’t get together when I was in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, I still went and got ice cream at Cruze Family Farms while I was in town.


Kim Bumpas: [00:10:24] Yeah, it is the best.


Adam Stoker: [00:10:24] So, talk to me a little bit about how you guys are able to provide such an incredible visitor experience in Knoxville.


Kim Bumpas: [00:10:34] Definitely. And one of the biggest feedbacks that we get is the one you just shared, which is Knoxville is just genuinely a really friendly place. So it’s like we’re all in it together, to a degree, which makes it a beautiful place to sell. And I think as you look at your experience, I have those a mile long. People come here, and I think everyone that lives in Knoxville and Knoxville inns, really want visitors to enjoy all that we have to offer and all the different experiences, which is why you had that kind of feedback. Because the Cruze Family is amazing, great partners, best ice cream you’ll ever eat, as you already have experienced. So I think with Visit Knoxville, we just kind of work with our stakeholders to try to tell that story. And it’s not all grassroots, but a lot of it is. And that’s how you got to Market Square. I’ve been in tourism in Knoxville for over 20 years and have kind of seen it grow from the ground up. And it’s been an extremely unique and amazing experience to be a part of.


Adam Stoker: [00:11:50] Yeah, it’s interesting, and I know a lot of it’s grassroots, but there’s a lot of who you are as a person and being friendly, a lot of that training happens in the home, right, as you’re growing up. And Knoxville must have great people because it sounds like a lot of that training is taking place in the home. But converting it to, “Hey, here’s how we take care of travelers,” and opposing teams, like we just won against Tennessee in a heartbreak for Tennessee, and everybody’s so nice. So is there training around what the university talks to fans about? Or do you guys have stakeholder training for tourism-related workers in the industry? What are you doing to convert that, “Hey, we’ve got great people here, too. These great people are helping to provide a wonderful experience”?


Kim Bumpas: [00:12:44] That’s an awesome question. And we have a lot of different platforms in which our stakeholders kind of embrace. And then of course we are a huge advocate and partner to the University of Tennessee, so we kind of control all the messaging on the game-day apps to tell the story of why you should visit Knoxville and what you should do when you’re in Knoxville. But we also have a program called Gotta Know Knoxville, and that is our tourism, kind of the frontline training that really shows our folks why Knoxville’s so awesome to visitors. I think because when you live somewhere, it’s so easy to take the things in your backyard for granted. So we developed this program to kind of almost pop people’s eyes open. 

It was many, many years ago when we started this, and it really rooted from feedback from a meeting planner who said, “Well, I grabbed a cab at the airport and asked the cabbie what there was to do in Knoxville, and he said nothing.” And so we were like, “Well, we need to fix that.” And so that’s kind of how Gotta Know Knoxville birthed. And it’s something that sells out, and when I say sells out, it’s obviously free to our frontline tourism providers. But we also have a lot of realtors and other for-profit entities that also like to embrace the program, so there is a minimal fee. And that’s how we kind of get people re-energized about the place that they live so that when they’re asked no matter what their job function is, “What’s there to do in Knoxville?” they can rattle off a million things. 


Adam Stoker: [00:14:25] So what’s the format of this training? Is this online training? Is it an in-person class, I guess pre-COVID, right? Tell me how this training is structured.


Kim Bumpas: [00:14:35] Yeah. It is in person. We don’t really do any online. Even with COVID, what we’ve done is put in safety protocols for limited numbers and physical distancing, and obviously face masks are mandatory. But we do it all in person. And you come to Visit Knoxville, you get lunch. We do some boardroom sessions where we walk through the whole county. And then the second half of the day, they get to go on either a walking tour or trolley tour where they actually physically see some of our attractions that are within close proximity while learning about all the others.


Adam Stoker: [00:15:12] Got it. Okay, that makes a lot of sense. And it sounds like it’s really taken off, but not only in the tourism community. This is one thing that really stands out to me. You’ve got other non-tourism businesses taking part in this program. Why do you think they do that?


Kim Bumpas: [00:15:29] Well, I think because there’s just this excitement. I think when people move to Knoxville, they get really excited about the destination and they want to learn more. And they want to be able to tell the story of either why they came here, why they stayed here, why they visited here and then moved here. So that’s the kind of feedback we get. And then also, if you’re a realtor, they come to the program because they think it makes their job easier. They’re able to more fully explain to someone that’s relocating why this is such a great place to live, work, and visit. And one other thing I didn’t get to add, but that does impact the restaurants and the experience you had, is we do have a sales and marketing committee that we open up to all of our stakeholders that are only chaired by one board member of the Visit Knoxville board. So that’s where some of the different partners get this crazy cross-promotion energy because they see that if we’re all in it together, that we all will do better.


Adam Stoker: [00:16:34] Yeah, that’s impressive. I love that program. Is there an example of that or a video of that that maybe we could share in our LinkedIn group so that our listeners could check out some of your training?


Kim Bumpas: [00:16:46] You can definitely go to visitknoxville.com, and you can go to About Us, and then you’ll learn about our volunteer program, which we really haven’t even hit on, and then you’ll learn about the Gotta Know Knoxville program. We don’t necessarily have a video showing you what the program looks like. We actually did that probably about 10 years ago, but what we found is the program now in the new world, it shifts and changes so dynamically just with evolving with everything that kind of presents itself in our universe, that the video becomes extremely outdated. But you can find all kinds of good information there about how people get involved, what it includes. And really, it kind of excites people, because like I said, the classes fill up every session.


Adam Stoker: [00:17:38] Great. It’s so fun to hear how passionate you are about your destination. And I want to learn a little bit about kind of your background and how you ended up in your role.


Kim Bumpas: [00:17:51] That’s a great question. I grew up in West Tennessee, which is Memphis, which is all the way across the state from Knoxville. And when I was getting set to go to college, I was actually going to go to Vanderbilt University, and my parents made the tragic mistake of bringing me to a University of Tennessee football game. And I literally fell in love with Knoxville, Tennessee right at even that moment, which was we’re way back in the ’90s now, not to date myself, but that’s where we are. And I kind of reevaluated at a young age what I wanted to do for my college experience. And I switched everything around and I went ahead and applied to the University of Tennessee, got accepted, majored in marketing, minor in psychology. I don’t know that hospitality was really in my head at that moment, because way back then, you didn’t really have that as a major. So my senior year of college, started working at the Holiday Inn Cedar Bluff. And the hotel business, it either loves your or it hates you. And it loved me, and I knew I could work hard and work my way up. So before I even graduated college, I was a front desk manager.

And then I graduated and got into sales. And back in ’94, ’95, if you could sell downtown Knoxville, you could probably sell anything because we didn’t have anything back then. There was no Market Square, no convention center, really nothing. And worked at the Holiday Inn downtown, then kind of the cat’s meow back then was the Hyatt Regency that we had, which was a Pritzker property, super fancy, set up on the big hill. Worked there for five years, they were going to leave Knoxville, now we’re close to 2000. And I went to Convention and Visitors Bureau, and that’s kind of how I got into it. We were not called Visit Knoxville back then. That took about another 12 years to get to Visit Knoxville. But it was an exciting ride, and through the process, I got to watch Knoxville grow up.


Adam Stoker: [00:20:08] Great. And you talk about watching Knoxville grow up. Give us kind of a general overview of Knoxville as a destination.


Kim Bumpas: [00:20:15] Yes. Knoxville, and a lot of people sometimes, they kind of get me when I say this, and I think in time it’s kind of grown on everyone, but Knoxville has a little bit of everything. So you can come here and you can get that taste of history, you can get that taste of music. You could have an outdoor experience that really is a once in a lifetime. You drive in, you can park your car at your hotel, you can literally rent a bike, go down to the river, rent a paddleboard, paddle to the park, get a mountain bike, ride the trails, get back on your paddleboard, come back to downtown, eat in a restaurant, go out to some nightlife, and go back to your hotel. Of course, this is all pre and post-COVID. But that is what Knoxville is all about. And then our history and heritage and the arts scene are amazing, and the murals. A lot of people used to get after me and say, “You know, what is Knoxville’s one big thing?” And one big component that having all of that variety for a visitor to come here and be able to build out their experience is our one big thing. And then you drop that Knoxville friendliness on top of it, and literally, it’s why we’ve become a premier getaway destination.


Adam Stoker: [00:21:42] That makes a lot of sense. And it helps so much to have a great destination. But I feel like Knoxville as a whole has done so much to take all these amazing assets and pull them together. And what I mean by that is you guys have that free shuttle downtown, right, that will take you to all the different –


Kim Bumpas: [00:22:02] Yes, the trolley.


Adam Stoker: [00:22:03] Yes. And it takes you to all the different parts of Knoxville. And I was able to experience that when I was there. Your way-finding signs are some of the very best that I’ve seen in all the destinations that I’ve gone to. It’s very easy to navigate downtown Knoxville for that reason. You’ve got the Square, Market Square that’s up there, where all the great dining establishments are. Tell me what Knoxville as a destination did to build the infrastructure that connected all the assets.


Kim Bumpas: [00:22:32] You know, I think it’s a partnership. The city, the county, the Chamber, Visit Knoxville, all of our private stakeholders, everyone has a large passion for coming together, being at the table, talking through the challenges and coming up with solutions. And I can’t say it’s perfect every single time, but the fact that you just kind of gave some very real-time visitor feedback, which we hear often about what some of the current layout and how you navigate, how that appeals to you, well that came from all of those different discussions. And then bigger than that is just the monetary resources that you have to have a commitment from your partners, mainly the city and the county, to make those things a priority for visitors. And there’s a lot of partners I haven’t even mentioned, which I need to go ahead and shout that out so I don’t get screamed at. But it’s a lot of people at the table trying to always enhance that visitor experience. And like any destination, sometimes we’re hitting it out of the park and sometimes we’re like, “Ooh, let’s redo that one in a year,” and just take the feedback we get and come back to the table.


Adam Stoker: [00:23:51] Right. I’m going to ask you one more question then we’ll take a quick break. And the question that I have is to have everybody aligned like you do in Knoxville it sounds like, and have that support, you must need to get great leadership from your city and county leaders and great alignment. And maybe this is a sensitive question, but I think it’s important for our listeners to be able to understand who this person should be, but where does that central leadership come from?


Kim Bumpas: [00:24:21] Well, I think that there’s a variety to that answer, there really is. Because it’s project-based. So if it’s really way-finding to get businesses to be able to do something better so that we can recruit more business, then the Chamber might take the lead. If it’s something that really is about enhancing how someone rides their bicycle from downtown Knoxville to out west and back, which is an amazing 30-mile ride that you wouldn’t even know you were near the interstate. You feel like you’re kind of out in the wilderness. That might be where we partner with Legacy Parks or the city of Knoxville as it relates to the urban wilderness. So we have a lot of leaders at the table. And it’s a variety of levels of leadership too, so it doesn’t always have to be the top of every agency. I think we just have a real willingness to get around the table and be open-minded and work together, especially as it relates to the visitor experience and how to tell people why they should visit Knoxville.


Adam Stoker: [00:25:31] I love that. I love that. Let’s take a quick break and we’re going to get back to Knoxville as a college town when we come back. 


Today’s episode is brought to you by Relic. As many as you know, I own an advertising agency called Relic and we work specifically with tourism destinations. If there’s any of you that are struggling with what to do next or you’ve tried agencies that don’t specialize in tourism or if you’ve been using a local flavor for years and years and you’re just looking for something new, I would say give us a call. Give us the opportunity to take a look at your plans, see what you’re doing, use our tourism knowledge and industry specialty to examine everything from your brand to your tactical execution and make recommendations of how to help. We’ll do that assessment for free. We’ll give you those recommendations for free. And if you like what we say, maybe you can hire us to execute on those plans. So, kind of a risk-free opportunity to have us take a holistic look at everything you’re doing, provide some recommendations, and you can kind of see us in action. 


If you’re interested in having us do something like that, please send me an email directly at adam@relicagency.com. I would love to set that up with my team.

Okay, Kim, we’ve touched on the fact that Knoxville is a college town. I obviously, that’s how I came to Knoxville, was going to a college football game. So tell me a little bit about the importance of those college football-related travelers. I think we have a lot of college towns that listen to our show. So when you have an asset like that, like a university, how do you leverage that asset to promote long-term tourism?


Kim Bumpas: [00:27:18] Yes, that is a great question. And we value our partnership with the University of Tennessee at the highest level, not just because I’m an alum, but because they are a key economic driver for our destination. So the way we did it, and I think it’s really important for other destinations to kind of think outside the box on this, is you need to allocate partnership funds and seize the different marketing opportunities you can through that partnership. I think a lot of people just look at it and go, “Well, we’re the destination, so maybe the university should do this for free,” or vice versa. And I think a lot of people lose momentum and lose opportunity when you get tangled up in that. I think we look at it more from a business proposition, so we are the underwriter of the game day app because that’s a key way for us to impact someone that may only come to Knoxville because of a football game, but they will return three times over because they were not able to do everything they wanted to do during that first trip. 

So we do that. We also work in partnership with the athletics department about blasting some of the incoming out-of-town visitors with all the things we have to do during game day. Of course, this is kind of pre-COVID and it will be post-COVID. Things right now are a little bit different, but that’s all the way across the United States. So we’re just kind of rolling with that. But those are some of the ways we do it.


Adam Stoker: [00:28:51] I like that. And I want to point out for our listeners something that I found interesting from what you said. And that’s that there has to be a value exchange. You can’t expect a partner like a university in your town to provide that value for free. Asking for them to provide value for you in exchange for you providing value for them, in this specific scenario, it’s an exchange for money and sponsorship. But the partnership results in so many visitors coming back and wanting to be tourists in the destination. And so I just love that you pointed out, “Hey, we can’t just expect that because they’re located in our destination they should give us all this stuff for free. But we need to provide equal value.” That’s an important point for destinations to understand.


Kim Bumpas: [00:29:46] It really is. And I think that what it will guide you into is a bigger conversation. Because once someone sees that you’re willing to go all-in on the table, then they are more willing to want to do more things for you. And so when maybe a key partnership that wasn’t seized by a for-profit entity were to present itself, then maybe as the not-for-profit tourism entity, you might be able to seize that partnership at a different level than what you would have currently been able to because you’ve shown a commitment. Because we all have monetary needs, so you have to show that commitment to your partner that we’re all in it together.


Adam Stoker: [00:30:30] Great. And I know people listening are like, “Okay, but how do you calculate the ROI coming from those sponsorship dollars?” So my question to you would be how do you gauge the impact of these game day visitors coming into town?


Kim Bumpas: [00:30:44] Well, for us, when you’re going old school, obviously Smith Travel Research and hotel-motel tax collections and where it peaked and the average daily rate that you can obviously retain through talking to your hotels on a game day. Those are some of the old ways of doing it. But now with products like Adara and Arrivalist, we’re really able to hone in when a visitor comes to town, did they even go to the game? If they did, what was the percentage and what was the percentage of where else they went after they hit Neyland? And it’s really information like that that is super, super impactful in how you move forward. And I think that for us, obviously those resources are still evolving, and it’s exciting. It’s no doubt that anyone that has a major university in their destination, that there are people coming to town just for that university. So that’s another reason why we even partner with admissions, and we tell the Visit Knoxville story to every potential student. And we partner with the university and we do their visitor’s guide. So we kind of seize every entry point to visitation to the university that we can outside of events.


Adam Stoker: [00:32:03] That’s great. And I want to clarify one thing for those that are listening. When Kim refers to Neyland, she’s talking about Neyland Stadium.


Kim Bumpas: [00:32:10] Yes, I’m sorry about that.


Adam Stoker: [00:32:12] No, that’s fine. I just want to make sure that people understand the frame of reference. Because it is important to know did they even go to the stadium? And so I thought that was a great point. You talked about Adara and Arrivalist. And I’d love to know when you’re examining that game day data, and obviously this year’s different, so we’ll talk about last year, but when you’re examining that game day data, what are you seeing? What are game day visitors doing?


Kim Bumpas: [00:32:38] Yeah, so our points of interest vary, and we obviously use Arrivalist in key ways to change them. So if it’s a Garth Brooks stadium tour, we might have other points of interest. But for football games, when they come to town, obviously they’re going to the zoo, they sometimes drive up for a day in the mountains, and they shop and they eat, we see a lot of that. They go to Market Square, which is obviously a point of interest. So it can get pretty deep, but those would probably be some of the top-shelf things that they do when they come to town. And obviously, those are proximity-driven. So I tend to see when they come to town if they’ve driven here, they’re sometimes probably staying… If they’re staying in a perimeter property, they’re jumping on our game day shuttles, which is why they’re kind of perusing the downtown points of interest. The Sunsphere’s obviously a big pull as well. And that’s kind of how we use the products and what we see. And it enables us to be able to use that information to impact how we tell the story better.


Adam Stoker: [00:33:50] Great. Well, we’ve touched on it a couple of times that COVID has changed everything this year. How did your messaging have to change, especially in the fall when normally you’d have packed stadiums? Tell me what you’ve had to do differently.


Kim Bumpas: [00:34:06] Yes. There is a lot. But, I would love to lead with that East Tennessee, and that’s not just Knoxville, that’s our partners in the surrounding counties, but we really are leading the recovery of tourism in the state. And that’s nothing against the middle and west because they’re our partners and we love them and we feel for what everyone’s going through during COVID. But I think the reason East Tennessee is so appealing to travelers right now is that there’s a lot of outdoor adventure, physically distanced type opportunities when you think about the urban wilderness. And then they can also stay in a great hotel, eat in a restaurant, we have a mask mandate, so a lot of visitors give us that feedback that they feel very safe here. And so I say all that to lead into that is how we’re marketing Knoxville. We’re really pushing the outdoor COVID friendly, safe, wear a mask, come here, hang out. And then the fact that we’re extremely drivable and affordable also plays into why our numbers are bouncing back so fast.


Adam Stoker: [00:35:18] Okay. So you are seeing those numbers come back.


Kim Bumpas: [00:35:20] We are. We’ve been showing numbers with a gradual increase since May 1st. But as we’re going into football and fall, we’re even seeing bigger bumps. And if you were to look at it day by day from a weekly perspective, there have been some days that we beat this time last year. Now, as a collective whole, we’re still down anywhere on a good day 15%, on a bad day 30%. But when you look at our competitive set, we’re still beating a lot of our competitors that aren’t running down 15% to 30%. They’re running down 30% to 60%. And I don’t like to use that against anyone because COVID is a very not tourism friendly situation. So it could always be better, but it could always be a lot worse for Knoxville.


Adam Stoker: [00:36:18] Do you feel like COVID has opened up a new audience for you that maybe you wouldn’t have targeted before?


Kim Bumpas: [00:36:26] Yes and no. It definitely changed the way that we’ve told the story, and we focused obviously on… We focused a lot more on the drivability, but we kind of always did that. So do I think that COVID may be outside of our marketing efforts has opened the door to different visitors, I definitely do. Obviously, we’re all working in the Visitors Center of late because I think every DMO or CDB across the country is running a skeleton crew. And I meet people every single time I’m in there that are from all over. I met two ladies that just drove from Arizona and just ended in Knoxville. They had no rhyme or reason to why they did it, but once they got to this part of the country, they were like, “Let’s just stop here,” and they said they fell in love with our downtown setting and they decided to stay here for a few days. I think that you’ll also see an influx of visitation because the whole state of Tennessee got some CARES Act money, but Knoxville did as well. So we’ll be pushing outdoor-friendly visitation in that 500-mile radius between now and the end of December.


Adam Stoker: [00:37:45] Great. Well, Kim, that has been really, really interesting stuff. And obviously, I probably sound like it’s a little bit of a love fest because I did have such a great time in your destination, but I’m wondering if you could give just kind of what’s your general advice for other destinations going through the same challenges you are, what would you say to them?


Kim Bumpas: [00:38:08] I think you’ve got to think outside the box. And you have to be the cheerleader. No matter how hard you get hit or how bad it seems like it is, it can always be worse, and you have a lot of stakeholders that actually it is a lot worse for. And you need to be that source that helps uplift and show people, “Hey, we’ve got this. We’re going to think about how to do it differently.” And as Visit Knoxville, we were doing that way before COVID. That’s why we have a sports commission under our umbrella. We have a film office under our umbrella. We own all our own tractor-trailers and sport court and we can do turnkey tournaments that a lot of CDBs and DMOs would have to partner with a third party to do. 

So you just always have to think differently. And I like to say you should also try to run a nonprofit like a for-profit. We are blessed to be a 501(c)(3), so we can have sponsorships and partners through the sports commission. And you’ve got to prove to your stakeholders and to your city and to your county that you’re in it just as much as they are, and you’re not just here to depend on hotel-motel tax collections, that you’re here to contribute as well. And that would probably be my biggest advice because that’s not about actually waving a wand, it’s just about a mindset and actually getting out there and physically doing the work, and then all of a sudden it’s like that little snowball that was really small when you started it and all of a sudden it’s super huge and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.” 


Adam Stoker: [00:39:52] Yeah. Great advice. What’s next for Knoxville, Kim?


Kim Bumpas: [00:39:56] Oh my goodness. Well, as soon as we get out of COVID, we have all kinds of good stuff brewing. There are little tidbits in the news about maybe a baseball stadium near downtown, which will be amazing. We have a lot of hotel projects that have been paused but will be super, super good for our downtown setting once we kind of pick up speed again. The Holiday Inn downtown is undergoing a renovation right this second into a full-service Marriott which is right next to the convention center. And then like everyone else, we need to get a little bit of distance from COVID and kind of evaluate the new landscape, see who made it through, who didn’t, who will be better because of it, what do we need to bring back. So it’s a little bit like a puzzle right now, but a super exciting opportunity that I know we’re all looking forward to. And we have been hosting a few tiny events, but if we get the green light to kind of get back to close to normal next year, 2021 will be a record year for Knoxville, Tennessee. 


Adam Stoker: [00:41:11] Great. Great. And I’m sure it will be, especially with you at the helm and everything that’s going on there. You guys have got a lot of momentum. You’ve outperformed the competition in COVID. I appreciate your leadership and willingness to share on our show today. 


Kim Bumpas: [00:41:27] Well, I appreciate you being patient with the scheduling and then just really making it happen. I’ve enjoyed this time, and I hope it’s helpful to some of your listeners. 


Adam Stoker: [00:41:40] Great. Where can people find you if they want to keep an eye on you and Knoxville?


Kim Bumpas: [00:41:45] 100% visitknoxville.com and you can find everything you need right there including how to find me.


Adam Stoker: [00:41:51] Awesome. Well, Kim, thanks so much.


Kim Bumpas: [00:41:53] Thank you. I appreciate it.

Adam Stoker: [00:41:55] Okay, everybody, this has been another fun episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.