Officials predicting big travel weekend

May. 22, 2014 @ 06:15 PM

With gas prices relatively steady or decreasing and millions of Americans expecting to travel over the weekend, visitors to Sevier County could be coming in droves for the Memorial Day holiday.

The travel authority AAA expects 36.1 million people to trek 50 miles or more from home for the holiday weekend, and with many in the southeast choosing the Smoky Mountains as a destination, the travel could mean good news for local businesses.

“A long and unusually harsh winter gave many Americans the travel bug,” Mark Jenkins, a national spokesman for the association said in a press release. "Combine rising temperatures with signs of an improving economy, and travel for the holiday should hit a new post-recession high.”

Locally, there is reason for optimism.

"Things look really good with relation to reservations/advance bookings in the lodging industry and some attractions as well that require reservations, etc.," Ken Maples, the president of the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association, said Thursday.

"We are about 80 percent booked on reservations for the weekend at the Comfort Inn & Suites and Quality Inn & Suites in Pigeon Forge. Also, our catering calendar is full starting tomorrow through Sunday at Buddy's Bar-b-q in Sevierville and Great Smoky Mountain Catering Company at Brookside Resort in Gatlinburg."

Don Lindsey, the director of public affairs with AAA Tennessee, said overall, it's a good signal for everyone.

"I don't think anyone's totally satisfied with where the economy is, but it is an indication that we're still moving in the right direction," he said Thursday.

"Leisure travel is highly sensitive to how people feel about their own economic situation," Lindsey said. "So when the numbers go up on leisure travel, then that's a pretty good indication that things are moving in the right direction.

According to a survey taken by AAA's Auto Club Group in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, "about 80 percent of Tennesseans expect to take a trip of 50 miles or more, requiring an overnight stay, sometime during the summer; about 66 percent of those say that they will take a vacation of four days or more sometime between May and September," Lindsey said.

"Right now (gas prices) are either flat or on a decline, and that's a good thing," Lindsey said. "We're on what is typically a downhill slope through most summers in the past 10 years, the slope has gone all the way down into September."

With the weather forecast looking fairly good — 30 percent chance of storms Friday, but only 10 percent chance of rain Saturday and Sunday as of Thursday afternoon — it should make for a busy week Sevier County.

At least that's what those who depend on the tourism economy hope.