Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, has been named the State Tourism Director of the Year.
The award is voted upon annually by the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Tourism Directors. Whitaker was announced as the winner before about 600 of her peers Monday at the ESTO conference of tourism professionals in Richmond, Va.
“Susan is a wonderful representative for Tennessee. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her on any number of critical travel issues and always appreciate her insight,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Susan gets it. She appreciates the power of travel to benefit communities, businesses and individuals. This tremendous recognition by Susan’s peers reflects her passion for travel, and I know we all look forward to her many future contributions.”
Whitaker’s selection drew immediate praise from top dignitaries in her home state.
“This honor is well-deserved,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. “Susan and her staff bring innovative ideas and vision to Tennessee’s thriving tourism industry, and the accomplishments under her leadership will have a lasting impact on Tennessee.”
“Susan is not only a friend of mine but she’s one of the best friends that our Tennessee tourism industry has ever known,” said entertainer Dolly Parton, formerly Whitaker’s boss at Dollywood, Tennessee’s most-visited tourist attraction. “Susan makes sure that the welcome mat is always out for folks who want to visit our great state, and I appreciate her enthusiasm, dedication, and get-it-done attitude!”
Whitaker’s major accomplishments for Tennessee include the launch of the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program which features 16 comprehensive, statewide trails in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties and along the state’s five National Scenic Byways. As the co-chair of Tennessee’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, Whitaker is a strategic part of the planning and overseeing of Tennessee’s 150th Civil War commemoration, including the launch of the Tennessee Civil War Trails Program. Whitaker launched Tennessee’s Sustainable Tourism initiative with the 2008 Great Smoky Mountain Sustainable Tourism Summit, positioning the state as a national leader in sustainable tourism.
The STDOTY award is given to the professional whose leadership has led to the measurable improvement of his or her state’s travel and tourism profile. Each year, such success is measured in relationship to the budgetary and staff resources that the director has at their disposal.
Candidates are nominated by other state/territory tourism directors and a slate of three finalists is presented for selection by ballot.
Whitaker is the third Tennessean to win the award since its founding in 1970, following Tom Jackson in 1978 and Sandra Fulton in 1993.