Sevier County tourism officials are working to change the perception of tourists, mostly out of state, who think most of the county is closed because of the November 2016 deadly wildfires.
“We really are amazed how people outside of this general area who simply think we burned to the ground,” said Scott Harness, the vice president of marketing and sales for Schuler Companies, which operates a number of hotels in Sevier County.
Thousands of structures did burn, but the places many tourists come to visit, were untouched by flames.
The Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism hosted a briefing with business and community members Tuesday to give an update on the status of recovery.
Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear said flames did not damage any commercial businesses in his town. Yet tourism officials found in survey of 1,000 people in top 20 markets of Pigeon Forge visitors, that 10 percent thought they needed to cancel 2017 vacations because of the wildfires.
“More than 10 million people visit here every year so when you look at that number [10 percent], that’s a million people. That number becomes larger on scale,“ said Sue Carr of the Pigeon Forge Tourism Department.
In the months following the fires, Pigeon Forge commission approved an additional $2.9 million in emergency “recovery” advertising. The department has made a push in their top 20 markets, including Atlanta, Cincinnati and Birmingham with digital and television ads.
“We are changing perception that Pigeon Forge and the National Park are open,” Carr said.
Carr points to the uptick in web traffic to mypigeonforge.com as proof.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokesperson Dana Soehn pointed out that only about 2 percent of the park was burned in the wildfires. And of those 17,904 acres, about 65 percent of it was only slightly burned, meaning trees and canopy were not destroyed.
Soehn said visitors will notice very few differences in their visit to the park with only four trails closed long-term and no historic structures damaged.
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