Gatlinburg Tennessee


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Meet the Commissioner

Susan Whitaker, Tourism Commissioner


Commissioner Susan WhitakerCommissioner Susan Whitaker
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

Susan Whitaker, a veteran tourism marketing executive, was appointed in January 2011 to the cabinet of Governor Bill Haslam as Commissioner of Tourist Development. Whitaker was initially appointed to the position in 2003 by Governor Phil Bredesen, and reappointed under his administration in 2007. Whitaker was named the 2013 National Tourism Director of the Year by the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Travel Directors.

As Commissioner, Whitaker is responsible for marketing Tennessee’s tourism industry domestically and internationally. Tourism is one of Tennessee’s largest industries, providing a $15.36 billion direct economic impact and generating more than $1 billion annually in state and local sales tax revenue for the past six years. Tennessee is now ranked 9th among all states in total travel.

Whitaker oversees the development and implementation of statewide tourism’s comprehensive marketing, publicity and promotions campaigns, all designed to stimulate growth of tourism in Tennessee. Of note is the state’s award-winning consumer website,, as well as the state’s 14 Welcome Centers.

Under Whitaker’s leadership, the Department of Tourist Development launched the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program. The program features 16 comprehensive, statewide trails that guide visitors from Tennessee’s big cities to off-the beaten path attractions throughout the state. This initiative includes all of Tennessee’s 95 counties as well as 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. In preparation for this Civil War milestone, Whitaker launched the Tennessee Civil War Trails Program. To date, markers are in place at more than 260 Civil War sites throughout the state with a goal to have the trail go into every Tennessee county. The Commission is also responsible for annual Civil War Sesquicentennial Signature events during the 150th commemoration.

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. Further outgrowth of the Summit has been Tennessee’s launch of a sustainable tourism website, featuring a complete online toolbox, 10 statewide sustainable tourism workshops as well as a six-part webinar series. Tennessee’s program has been recognized by U.S. Travel Association as a national best practice and included on the website.

Whitaker serves as the Secretary of the U.S. Travel Association’s Board of Directors. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Council of State Travel Directors, Travel South USA Board of Directors, the University of Tennessee’s Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management Advisory Board, and the Governor’s International Advisory Council. She serves as the co-chair of Tennessee’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission as well as the Tennessee State Fair Commission and is a member of the Smoky Mountains Park Commission.

Whitaker is a Chicago native and a direct descendent of Tennessee’s first Governor, John Sevier. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Prior to her state cabinet post, Whitaker served as vice president of marketing for Dollywood, Tennessee’s most visited manmade attraction.

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Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Video (2:30)

Industry Initiatives

Civil War 150