Canadian group studies Sevier County tourism

Nov. 23, 2013 @ 11:27 PM

The Atlantic Canada Best Practices Mission visited Sevier County this week to learn more about the area's success in attracting multi-generational tourism.

Mary Hope Maples, director of the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Council, which hosted the event, said the group is visiting with the hopes of improving the marketing and tourism back home.

"They're just here to learn from us," Maples said. "They recognize that it's a successful area for tourism, and would like to draw upon our success to try to help with their tourism in Canada."

Speaking to the Smoky Mountains Area Attractions meeting on Thursday, Dr. Steve Morse, economist and director of hospitality and tourism management in the College of Business at Western Carolina University, said the group chose the best destination to learn about tourism.

"There's no better place to learn how to market tourism, family vacations, than Sevier County, Tennessee," Morse said. "You are amongst the best professionals in the world that you can learn from right here."

Heather Connolly, economic development officer with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, helped to coordinate the Canadian group's visit, and she is a participant. She said that when best-practices trips like this one are organized, an extensive amount of research is conducted, and recommendations are made from various industry leaders to determine the right destination for the trip.

This year's theme is family tourism and multi-generational travel. "We looked for a region that excelled in those areas," Connolly said. "We quickly found out that Sevier County is a great example."

Connolly said she and her group were impressed with Sevier County.

"We've been blown away by the hospitality, the willingness to share," she said. "What you folks are doing here, it's incredible how successful you've been in the tourism industry. We've learned a lot."

One group members, Teresita McCarthy, manages a museum in Canada. She said Sevier County people's pride in heritage stands out.

"No matter where we visited, the very first thing any presenter did was give us their background and history, and gave us a really clear understanding of where they were coming from," McCarthy said. "Even though it's tourism, your people are still celebrating their history and heritage and are proud to share that with people."

McCarthy said that what most impressed the group was the way that individual cities in Sevier County work together in the tourism industry.

"In most communities, the people and the organizations are so busy talking about their product and what they can do, they very rarely understand celebrating the person next door," McCarthy said. "The importance of partnering and working as a group to further what you want to do is something I'll bring back to my community."

Even though cities have their own brands and do their own thing, McCarthy said, "they celebrate the success of each other."