Locals taking up the slack
As the economic recovery slowly continues, area businesses are looking hard for the silver lining in the dark cloud of reduced revenues the tourism slump has brought. Some are finding that local residents are enjoying the lack of traffic and getting out to attractions more often than in the past.
Concerns over terrorism, fuel prices in the wake of the war in Iraq, and a general economic downturn has had some tourists staying home this year, instead of bringing their dollars to Sevier County.
For example, Dollywood has seen a slight but steady decline in visitation since 1999, with a 4.34% drop in the number of revelers in the past three years.
Visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also down, according to figures provided by the Sevier County Economic Development Council, as much as 9.4% since 1999. A tourism dollar will “turn over” many times in the community, as they are subsequently used among other things to pay salaries, develop new construction, purchase supplies, and pay taxes.
Some businesses are finding it rough going in the current economic climate, while others are doing fine, and even expanding. Among the winners are big businesses such as mortgage refinancing and new home construction, reflecting the area’s reputation as one of the fastest growing in the state.
Some locals are using the lighter crowds and traffic to their advantage by visiting places they may have avoided in the past due to large crowds. This has helped many attractions weather the economic storm and smoothed out some of the spikes in revenue that traditionally accompany such downturns.
Numbers from the SCEDC also show that while total travel expenditures have been up every year since 1989, travel generated payroll and employment have remained flat or nearly so for the past two years, as have local tax receipts. Figures for the current fiscal year are not yet available, but are expected to show the same trend.