Knoxville Goes to the Dogs in a Canine-Friendly Tourism Campaign

By Kyle O'Brien 

Knoxville, Tennessee was made for dogs. Beyond its proximity to renowned pet-friendly parks like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Frozen Head State Park, Knoxville boasts numerous hidden gems waiting to be discovered by pet owners, and all of those are featured in a short film for Visit Knoxville, “Welcome to Barxville, A Knoxville Dogumentary.”

The film, by agency VML, features the voices of the area, including Peyton Manning, singer-songwriters Drew and Ellie Holcomb, head coach of the Lady Vols basketball team Kellie Jolly Harper and former director of women’s athletics at the University of Tennessee Joan Cronan.

The nine-minute film, directed by Ben Moon, was created to showcase the dog friendliness of Knoxville through the eyes, ears, nose and paws of a dog.


The star of the film is Hank, a golden retriever who takes us on his journey through Knoxville, highlighting various dog-friendly hotels, parks, restaurants, trails and iconic sites. Hank runs into fellow furry friends like football legend Manning, who plays his alma mater’s dog Volunteers mascot, and the Holcombs, who play dogs Hank meets along the way, and Harper and Cronan, who play adorable Shih Tzu’s.

The story of Hank’s travels leads viewers to Visit Knoxville’s pet friendly webpage, where they can request a free visitors guide.

Travel and canine insights informed the campaign

According to a recent survey by Trips for Pets, approximately 78% of Americans who have pets choose to bring them along on their vacations. Running with that information, Visit Knoxville and VML took a dog’s point of view to make the film.

“Many know and love Knoxville for its Southern hospitality, and our four-legged friends are no exception,” said Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville in a statement. “From dog-friendly hotels, patios, and shops to parks, trails, and Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, this town has something to help every furry member of the family feel at home.”

Recognizing the importance of catering to people traveling with pets, Angie Wilson, senior director of marketing for Visit Knoxville, said Visit Knoxville launched a series of dog-friendly ads earlier this year, generating over 7,375 hotel bookings and nearly $1.8 million in hotel revenue.

“We were talking about how little time dogs have with us. A day for us, is a week for them. And most dogs spend their whole lives at home. We wanted to encourage people to travel with their dogs so they can see the world outside of their homes in one of the most dog friendly cities in the country,” said Ryan Simonet, group creative director, VML in a statement.

The team collaborated with veterinary and dog-behavior experts, and looked to create an immersive experience tailored to canine sensibilities. Through extensive research and testing, the team curated a collection of over 50 captivating images of balls, squirrels, treats, and more, gauging the reactions of a focus group of more than 20 dogs. Over 55 distinct barks, squeaks, and other auditory cues were fine-tuned, incorporating music tracks to enhance their appeal.

In addition, “Welcome to Barxville” underwent meticulous color grading adjustments to heighten the vibrancy of yellows and blues, catering to the dichromatic vision characteristic of our canine companions. Testing ensured that the experience maintained the dogs’ interest, with attention spans typically lasting between 10 to 30 seconds.