Kim Bumpas finds lots to love in her job as chief of Visit Knoxville

Frank CagleFeature, Our Town Leaders

Kim Bumpas says she came to Knoxville to attend a Vol football game and fell in love with the town. When she graduated from high school in Collierville, a Memphis suburb, she headed back to the University of Tennessee to get her degree in marketing. Now it’s her job to convince people to “Visit Knoxville” and get them to love it, too.

Visit Knoxville is the short way of saying the Knoxville-Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is a mouthful. The present setup occurred six years ago when Gloria Ray, head of the Sports Corporation, resigned and headed for Florida. In the reorganization that followed, Visit Knoxville was born and Bumpas took charge. She and a 25-person staff work out of offices at Summit Hill and Gay Street, atop community radio station WDVX, 89.9 FM.

Bumpas, 47, worked at the Holiday Inn at Cedar Bluff while she was in college, then the Holiday Inn downtown when she graduated in 1994. She then joined the Hyatt organization and got 10 years of experience before joining the tourism team for Knoxville. She is married to Scott Bumpas and has four step-children.

Bumpas notes that downtown has come alive with festivals and a thriving nightlife. More hotels have been built, bringing more business. Visit Knoxville has grown with the local tourism economy, selling these amenities as part of a package to bring in more than 120 events a year. And the visitors support the festivals and fill up the hotels. It’s a symbiotic relationship. “Big Ears (festival) brings people from around the nation and internationally,” Bumpas says.

Is Knoxville over-building hotels? There are several on the drawing board. “If they all opened the same day, maybe, but their openings will be staggered over a couple of years,” she says, and growth in Knoxville will keep up.

One high-profile event has gone away: the Boomsday fireworks show on the riverfront.

“Boomsday cost $250,000, and we couldn’t find a corporate sponsor,” says Bumpas. “I couldn’t see taking it out of the marketing budget. I thought if I put it out there that it might go away then somebody would step up. No one did.” She said some of the people in the huge crowds on the riverfront had gotten scary, “and there were kids down there. We decided there was a better use for the money.”

Destination Imagination, after a 19-year run in Knoxville, has gone to Kansas City. “That was a huge blow; it really hurt. We are trying very hard to bring them back.”

The backbone of the tourism industry in Knoxville continues to be sports. The USA Cycling National Championships is in the midst of a six-year run. The convention center and environs can provide 15 basketball courts for championship tourneys. The 2019 Bassmaster Classic, Ninja Warriors and Olympic tryouts are slated.

Over 1,000 sports-tourism professionals will be in town in 2019 for the top trade show for the sports industry. Visit Knoxville hopes they think of Knoxville when planning their future events.

The film commission, a division of Visit Knoxville, has brought in eight feature films, most of them Lifetime movies, along with big-screen ventures like “The Last Movie Star,” one of Burt Reynolds’ final films. “Burt Reynolds was a sweetheart,” says Bumpas.

Visit Knoxville answers to an 11-member board – six appointed by the county, three by the city and two independent members picked by the board. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame has its own board and is a separate entity, as is the Chamber Partnership. There was once an attempt to put everything under one umbrella organization, but it didn’t work. “Different missions,” says Bumpas.

Visit Knoxville is funded by 40 percent of the county hotel/motel tax revenue and a $1.5 million contract with the city of Knoxville.

At present the staff is preparing to kick off 2019 with a four-day run (Jan. 9-12) of swim meets at the UT Aquatic Center, since Knoxville is one of five cities hosting Olympic-hopeful tryouts.

And Kim Bumpas is still loving Knoxville.

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