Editorial: Area tourism a blessing, not a curse

Sep. 26, 2013 @ 10:15 AM

Whether it’s resulting from a busy day during the Christmas season, an unfortunate turn onto the Parkway during the weekend of a car show or a drive through town on the Fourth of July, it’s not uncommon to hear locals begrudging tourists.

It’s also not uncommon for our county of 90,000 to swell to nearly double that during busy times of the year. At times it causes frustrations and inconveniences, no doubt.

People balk at the traffic, the out-of-towners or the low wages often associated with seasonal and tourism jobs. 

That’s understandable. But it also beats the alternative.

Only 12 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have lower unemployment rates than Sevier County, as 48,150 of the county’s 52,150 employable workers had jobs in July, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

In fact, only three East Tennessee counties have lower unemployment: Knox, Blount and Sullivan — which are all hubs to large national corporations.

Add to that the fact that Sevier County has some of the lowest property tax rates in the state, especially among more-developed counties, and the tourism dollars began to pay off for everyone.

State Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker, who was recently named 2013 national travel director of the year, presented her annual state of the tourism industry address last week, and announced the economic impact numbers of Tennessee as reported by the U.S. Travel Association.

“Tourism expenditures saw a 5.2 percent increase over last year,” she said. “These are visitors spending money every day with our attractions, hotels, restaurants, shops and more in each of our 95 counties. More importantly, our tourists generated more than $1 billion in state and local sales tax revenue for the seventh straight year. For Tennesseans, this means more dollars that can be used for education, public safety and other essential services that can’t pay for themselves.”

That’s welcome news for Sevier County.

While the county isn’t without its warts, there are plenty of things in Sevier County to be proud of and plenty of things that keep people coming back again and again.