Rachel Harrell, Loudon County Visitors Bureau executive director, is glad tourism found her.
Her appreciation for travel dates to when her mother would let her act as navigator on family trips. She loved reading maps and ultimately decided to minor in travel and tourism in college after enjoying geography classes.
But she had her first inside look at tourism with her first job after college, which she held for 10 years at the Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“My dad actually lived in Florence, Ala., so from Martin to Florence, you would go through Savannah, Tenn.,” Harrell said. “I would always see this little museum, and I always thought, ‘Well, that’s a cool little place. I wonder what they do there.’ And then all of a sudden, I’m interviewing for a job and ended up staying for a few years.”
Harrell learned of Loudon County through tourism networking.
“We happened to be in the same program, Retire Tennessee, and so I was at a show in Detroit, Mich., and met Clayton Pangle for the first time, and Clayton at that time was the interim director here and had been for five years,” she said. “I always gave him a hard time about being an interim for so long, but Clayton has a good heart and came in and saved them a whole bunch of money, and he said it was time to get a professional in here, and so I found out that they were looking for a director and applied for the job and came over and interviewed.”
After six years in the position, Harrell has found much to love about Loudon County, including husband Mark Harrell, Loudon Parks and Recreation Department director.
“I had been in Savannah for 10 years and wasn’t necessarily looking for something new,” she said. “I was just kind of at a place where if there was an opportunity, I would think about it. ... The Retire Tennessee director, Renee Winchester, told Clayton that I needed to move to find my love and that he had to promise her that he would find me someone, and so I did get moved here and it took Mark four years of chasing but he finally caught me and I’m happily married.”
She also appreciates that Loudon County is situated on the Tennessee River in a similar way to Hardin County.
“I think the very first thing I was made aware of is, ‘Yeah, we’re on the same river, but now we have a mountain view,’ and I didn’t grow up in a river town, so that was new at my first job and then this with the mountains,” Harrell said. “ … I already did own a boat, so I was glad to get to explore a new part of the river. I loved the access.”
River access and other attractions offer a “wealth of opportunities” locally, she said, emphasizing the importance of making Loudon County a destination.
Jeff Harris, Loudon mayor, said Harrell is an “asset” to the community.
“She’s really been active in the events that we already had in place, promoting those,” Harris said. “But she’s been very active in getting new events and getting the Loudon County name out in the public and tourism world. She’s a vital piece of what we do to attract tourists here in Loudon County and promoting everything we’ve got going on. Plus, she helps us gets new events scheduled, too.”
Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, Loudon County mayor, said Harrell has brought a new “energy” to the visitors bureau and the county.
“She brought … new ideas and fresh ideas, and the way she’s expanded just the selling points of Loudon County at the visitors bureau,” Bradshaw said. “She’s just done a great job and made that a very pertinent department for the county and looking at the money and the way she advertises for our county here and the money she brings in via the tourism just as a part of everything. She’s embedded herself in the community, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the job she does and that she has done since coming on board.”