Sevier County tourism healthy in 2013

Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:58 PM

The rainy weather may be keeping some visitors away, but local officials say that overall, it’s still shaping up to be a good year for tourism.

Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are hosting events this week, and leaders say the cities are mostly keeping pace with or surpassing the numbers they saw in 2012, meaning the local industry is continuing to recover from the drops it saw during the recession.

In Pigeon Forge, Mayor David Wear said the city is hosting a tournament at Wears Farm City Park even as it awaits the opening of the LeConte Center. Recently opened attractions at the Island have also helped to boost sales figures.

“I think the rain has kept us from being where we could be but as a city as a whole I think we’re about where we want to be,” he said. “I think the rain takes a toll on outdoor attractions as well as day trippers.”

That seemed to be reflected in the tax numbers from May, he said, as sales tax figures and lodging figures appeared to be at or above the levels they hit last year, when revenues from attractions were down.

In Sevierville, the Convention Center is currently hosting the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association Family Conference and an Answers in Genesis event this week.

Overall, sales tax collected by Sevierville is up 2.9 percent over last year’s numbers, with March marking the strongest month so far. The figures for May are 1.2 percent higher than last year, meaning the city was still getting numbers similar to last year as the busy summer season started.

“I’d rather see a slow, steady climb than going up and down, up and down,” Mayor Bryan Atchley said.

“I think we’re doing the right things countywide,” he added. “If you look at the cities and the county, we all offer something different, and that keeps people coming back and businesses coming in."

Gatlinburg’s convention center is hosting the Craftsmen’s Fair through July 28. Mayor Jerry Hays said that event has taken on a life of its own.

“It always does well. It’s been going on so long it’s become an institution,” he said. “Sometimes people come up just for it.”

Hays also said it looks like the city’s tourism figures should be in line with last year’s numbers.

“Everything is looking positive,” he said. “We’re probably a little bit above last year. Nothing to get real excited about, but it’s going very well and I think our tax numbers are looking very positive which is the best indicator we have.”

jfarrell@themountainpress.com