The tourists and dollars lost in East Tennessee and western North Carolina because of the shutdown of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park could be worse than first reported.
On Thursday, a group of park service retirees released a report estimating that the Smokies lost 257,534 visitors in the first 10 days of the shutdown, along with more than $23 million dollars that could have been spent in the area.
An economist from Western Carolina University is painting a grimmer picture.
Steve Morse, director of WCU's Hospitality and Tourism Program, looked at past economic impact studies and visitor spending data in the 18 counties closest to the park. He estimated that in the first 10 days of the shutdown, the area lost more than $33 million dollars in visitor spending.
Morse shared his findings on Friday at a legislative luncheon hosted by the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Gatlinburg Hospitality Association.
"Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and October is one of the busiest months in terms of park visitation," Morse said. "Every day that the park is closed means that 36,912 visitors per day are not visiting the park and are not spending money in the local economy."
The shutdown has closed popular park campground and visitor centers. Roads are barricaded, and only essential personnel are working.
Morse says the furloughed workers have lost more than $12 million in wages for workers, which trickles down to $1.8 million in lost state taxes and $1 million in lost local taxes for municipalities and counties.
According to the study, each day that the park is closed:
- 26,577 visitors are lost per day in Tennessee, and 10,335 visitors are lost per day in North Carolina. In the 10 days since the closure began, 369,120 people who would have visited the park were unable to do so (265,767 in Tennessee and 103,354 in North Carolina).
- $3,314,232 per day is not being spent by visitors in the local economy ($2.38 million in Tennessee and $927,985 in North Carolina). Since Oct. 1, that equates to $33,142,324 in total lost visitor spending ($23.86 million in Tennessee and $9.27 million in North Carolina).
- $1,226,266 per day is lost in worker wages and paychecks ($882,911 in Tennessee and $343,354 in North Carolina). Since Oct. 1, that totals $12,262,660 in lost worker income ($8.82 million in Tennessee and $3.43 million in North Carolina).
- $181,343 is lost per day in state taxes ($130,567 in Tennessee and $50,776 in North Carolina). That adds up to $1,813,429 in lost state taxes during the first ten days of October ($1.30 million in Tennessee and $507,760 in North Carolina).
- $102,423 is lost per day in local taxes in Tennessee and North Carolina cities and counties within 60 miles of the park ($73,745 in Tennessee and $28,679 in North Carolina). During the first 10 days of the shutdown, that means $1,024,235 in lost local taxes for cities and counties ($737,449 in Tennessee and $286,786 in North Carolina).
"Tourism is big business for the areas that surround the national park, and we are beginning to see some of the unintended consequences of the government shutdown," Morse said.