County tourism growth outpaces rivals

But UT economist cautions against complacency
Apr. 12, 2013 @ 11:34 PM

Tourism has grown faster in Sevier County than in competing destinations such a Branson, Myrtle Beach and Panama City, a University of Tennessee economist told local hospitality industry members Thursday.

Steven Morse spoke at the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center, where the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association and the Sevier County Lodging Alliance met jointly.

Nevertheless, Morse admonished audience members “not to sit on their laurels,” but to spend money as needed to continue boosting the tourism industry.

In the state, Sevier County came in third in tourist spending in 2012, generating $1.58 billion. Davidson County (Nashville) generated $4.2 million, Shelby County (Memphis) $3 billion.

Using the U.S. Traveler Sentiment Index to measure likelihood of travel, Morse revealed that the country is now back to 2007 levels of travel confidence.

Pigeon Forge lodging revenues in March 2012 were 37 percent higher than the previous year, and amusement revenues were 36.1 percent higher than in March 2011, Morse noted.

“We’re very pleased with 2012 and the results we saw,” said Sevier County Lodging Alliance President Ken Maples. “It gives us a challenge for next year.

“It’s great to see these things taking place and developments going up,” he continued. “It shows us the economy is regulating itself in Sevier County again.”

Maples is also optimistic about what 2013 will bring. “We are working more cooperatively on a local and state level to grow tourism, and when we work together we are much more successful when competing with other tourism destinations,” he said.

jfrye@themountainpress.com