Herb Handly is leaving the Smoky Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau on June 30 after 12 years as executive vice president.
Handly made the announcement on Tuesday, May 10, at the Visitors Bureau meeting at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce.
Handly held up a sign following the Visitors Bureau meeting and told the story of how far the county has come in 12 years.
The hand-made sign said, “Tourists Go Home and Give Ours Back.” Handley recalled that he got a call from someone in Townsend shortly after he started the job in August of 1999, telling him someone had put the sign up on Wear’s Valley Road.
“It was at the peak of the tourist season. I kept it and hav looked at it as the years have gone by,” he said. “We’ve come a long way,” he said.
Handly said that as the county’s tourism strategies have evolved, the culture of what tourism has changed, as has residents attitude about the industry.
“The community has become more progressive, and I think they understand a lot of the success of the county lies in the way they treat visitors,” he said.
Handly, who retired as an executive with Proffitts before taking the job with the Visitors Bureau 12 years ago, said he would turn 65 in May. “I’ve danced around this for a while as far as what I wanted to do,” he said.
Handly said he made the decision after speaking with his wife, Phyllis. “It is always difficult when you make a life-changing decision, and this will be life-changing. There are a lot of things I want to do, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
In his letter to board members, Handly referred to the “Heads in Beds” focus most had regarding tourism in 1999 and how that evolved into a tourism strategy focused on celebrating the county’s scenic beauty and heritage.
Handly listed a number of accomplishments the bureau achieved, including establishing the Experience Your Smokies program 10 years ago to get community leaders involved with the National Park; growth in the Spring and Fall Heritage Festivals; introducing the Winter Heritage Festival and the Smoky Mountain Pottery Festival; purchasing the 10 acres adjacent to the visitors center in Townsend for future growth; and seeing a 78 percent increase in generated occupancy tax and an 85 percent increase in visitors expenditures, making Blount County’s tourism program the sixth largest program in Tennessee.
“I would not have been able to accomplish these milestones if it were not for the faith, support, creativity and confidence of our board of directors who provided the use of the Bureau’s resources to develop the programs that have allowed us to grow,” he said. “Additionally, the staff of the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau has shown untold loyalty commitment to carrying out new and innovative ideas towards building a better destination for visitors. While our staff is small in size, they have become giants in their skills in providing a solid program to support the amazing growth over these years.
“Thank you for allowing me to help shape the future of our community,” he said. “It has been a pleasure and has forever changed my life.”
Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Chamber Partnership, said finding the right replacement is one of the ways Handly’s legacy will be honored.
“Herb has done a fantastic job for us, and we want to be sure we’re honoring the hard work done he’s done with Visitors’ Bureau. That is why we feel strongly we’ll find a person who is the right fit for the Visitors’ Bureau who has run one for at least five years,” Daniels said. “To try to bring someone in who hasn’t run one would be an injustice. We’ll be methodical and try to get the best candidate we can to represent us in the partnership.”
Daniels said the Partnership will do a national search. “We feel that the visitors’ bureau needs someone who has operated a visitors’ bureau before and we’re going to search for those people on nationwide basis,” he said. “We’ll advertise in trade publications only, and we will work with members of the visitors’ bureau board to find a replacement who will work here in the Partnership.”