shown: Virgin Falls, Sparta Tennessee
Commissioner Susan Whitaker
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
Susan Whitaker, a veteran tourism marketing industry executive, was appointed in January 2003 to Governor Phil Bredesen's cabinet as Commissioner of Tourist Development. She was reappointed in January of 2007 for a second term.
In this role, Whitaker is responsible for marketing Tennessee's tourism industry domestically and internationally. Tourism is one of Tennessee’s largest industries employing more than 182,300 Tennesseans and providing a $14.4 billion direct economic impact.
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 world-class Web site, tnvacation.com as well as the state's 13 highly rated Welcome Centers.
In 2008, Whitaker helped position Tennessee as a leader in sustainable tourism by launching Tennessee's Sustainable Tourism Summit held in honor of Great Smoky Mountains National Park's 75th anniversary. The two day event was attended by more than 500 industry leaders from Tennessee and around the country. Further outgrowth of the precedent-setting Summit has been Tennessee's launch of a sustainable tourism Web site, tnsustainabletourism.com, featuring a complete online toolbox to help guide implementation of sustainable tourism practices. In 2009 Tennessee launched statewide sustainable tourism educational 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 in sustainable tourism planning and included on the travelgreen.org Web site.
As Tennessee’s Tourism Commissioner, Whitaker serves on the Policy Council and Board of Directors for the US Travel Association; the Travel South USA Board of Directors, the Executive Committee of the National Council of State Travel Directors, and the University of Tennessee’s Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management Advisory Board. She serves as the co-chair of Tennessee’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and is a member of the Governor’s Jobs Cabinet and 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 tourist attraction. Before joining Dollywood, Whitaker worked from 1993 to 1997 as director of marketing and advertising for the Silver Dollar City/Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation properties in Branson, Missouri. In 2000, Whitaker was appointed to serve on the Corporation's President's Team, developing strategic plans for all nine properties of the corporation, including Dollywood.
Throughout her career, Whitaker has received many awards and honors. She has earned the Telly and Addy Awards for her broadcast and advertising work. She was presented the Pacesetter Award from the Stennis Center for Public Service.