Economist: Sevier tourism could return to pre-recession levels soon

Spring Break was a big week for Sevier County. (Source: Kyle Grainger, WVLT)

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Sevier County tourism leaders are optimistic that 2013 could be the comeback year for people visiting the Great Smoky Mountains.

Dr. Steve Morse, an economist from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, says national indicators show people are interested in taking a vacation this year. He says the U.S. Traveler Sentiment Index measures interest in travel, and this year the number has returned to levels of 2007, before the recession hit.

"Many people are looking to travel again and they feel comfortable traveling. the key for destinations like Sevier County is stiff competition with a lot of other resort areas that are offering value vacations," said Morse.

Morse believes Sevier County will see a 2-3% growth to the county's $1.5B industry, the state's 3rd largest economy. At the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association meeting on Thursday, he told the group to be ready for a year of growth.

Business owners listened with excitement. Robin Nichols, owner of the Willow Brook Lodge, says she still needs staff and wonders if she'll need to hire more, with more people coming to town.

"I'm just looking forward to it, looking forward to hire, we still need more staff at Willow Brook Lodge here in town," said Nichols. "I've noticed a lot of job fairs going on, so there's a lot of hiring going on."

Tourism created more than 18,000 jobs in Sevier County and equated to $364 million in paychecks.

Morse says the best way to grow tourism is to increase budgets for market advertising.

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