Sevier County cities hopeful about 2021 tourism

 Thursday, December 24, 2020 


The pandemic has kept several at home but the year-end numbers looks good for the cities in the tourist mecca of Sevier County. Thanks to its ideal location, outdoor adventures and safety protocols, the tourism in the most visited cities of the country survived as destinations worldwide underwent tremendous crisis.

Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg leaders learned the way to become accustomed to the pandemic early on, and at present they’re all prepared for whatever 2021 throws at them.

The end of 2019 saw the three cities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg making record-breaking tourism revenue and visitation. If the numbers were any indicator, 2020 would have been another year of growth.

“We felt very positive rolling into 2020, but then when COVID hit, it was really a big unknown,” said Mark Adams, president and CEO of Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We had no idea what we were facing for the future.”

Virus impacted cases across the region rose during the last days of March, resulting in travel restrictions that harmed the three cities directly.

“That’s when things really went south,” said Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism.

Pigeon Forge’s revenue dropped 53% from 2019 in the first month of 2020. April shutdowns cut the revenue once again to 79% less than in 2019. The virus spread as Sevierville was ending its fiscal year, creating the restaurants, amusement and lodging revenue to fall massively.

East Tennessee city officials and business leaders had to regroup to find a solution to get back the losses quickly and safely.

Health guidelines, state and local restrictions and knowledge about COVID-19 changed every in the early months of this virus outbreak phase, leaving destination cities unsure about how to move ahead.

In March and April, Pigeon Forge stopped marketing to talk with health professionals, Downey told Knox News. After getting their guidance, the city restarted its marketing responsible travel from June 2020. Sevierville and Gatlinburg took similar steps and implemented creative ways to keep visitors, residents and business owners informed.

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