free airfare

Gov. Lee responds to critics of free airfare program

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters in Gainsboro on July 8. 2021. (Image credit: State of Tennessee)

Gov. Bill Lee spoke to reporters for the first time late last week about his program to give away $250 flight vouchers to tourists who book two-night stays in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

Here is what he said:

Q: Why is this program necessary?

Lee: The tourism industry in this state is the second-largest generator of tax revenue for Tennessee. It’s an enormous industry in our state. And it’s suffered tremendously through the pandemic, arguably as much as any other industry in the state. An effective marketing campaign is the strategy there. We accomplished that. I’m committed to the tourism industry and will continue to be. That was a relatively small financial commitment, that particular campaign. But we have plans for commitment and investment in recruiting folks to Tennessee, especially to rural counties and to places that are not traditionally where they come. But need to invest in tourism. I’m glad we did it.

Q: Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has been critical, saying he thought more areas should be involved. And some people are critical over the ad. How do you respond?

Lee: Always a lot of critics. But that comes with politics. But what we’re committed on is creating opportunity and jobs in this state and a return on investment. And that was a marketing campaign that will have a great return on investment. It will help support a very important industry in this state. And it is one of a comprehensive approach we will take in tourism investment over the year.

Q: Some of the Republicans in the Senate particularly felt blindsided. Have you spoken to the Lt. Gov. or finance chairs to allay some of those concerns?

Lee: I’ve spoken to the lieutenant governor a couple times, but not on that issue. The lieutenant governor and I have a very good relationship and very strong working relationship. We don’t agree on everything, but we work together for a lot. I actually haven’t talked to him about that issue. As I said, it’s one of many investments in tourism development that we will make. It’s a return on investment.

Q: So you intend to continue with the Tennessee On Me campaign?

Lee: Yeah. It’s already rolled out. It’s out there. We’re fortunate that we had a global music guy in Brad Paisley willing to push that out through his channel. It was a message sent out to millions of people across America that Tennessee is a place to think about coming to.