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2020 worst year in Pigeon Forge’s economic history, but numbers are improving, tourism director says

Pigeon Forge's tourism director has called 2020 the worst year in the city's economic history, saying it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to the pandemic.
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 3:34 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2020 at 9:52 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Pigeon Forge’s tourism director has called 2020 the worst year in the city’s economic history, saying it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to the pandemic.

But it’s not all bad news. Director of Tourism Leon Downey said that he’s optimistic about the fourth quarter as tourism numbers show signs of growth. During the height of the shutdown, Pigeon Forge said spending in the city went down by 80 percent, and amusement attractions have taken the biggest hit with revenues down more than half of what they were this time in 2019.

The restaurant industry is down 17 percent, but at the Collier Restaurant Group, their breakfast restaurants alone need 100 workers.

“After we went 100% and full capacity we’ve been so busy, it isn’t even like we’ve slowed down at all,” said Robert Maples. “It’s been a challenge because with the unemployment where it was it made it a challenge to get people to come to work anyway.”

Downey said that the economic numbers are the worst he’s seen in the 32 years since he’s had his job.

“These are the worst I’ve seen in the 32 years I’ve been in this position so, but again the numbers are improving,” said Downey. “We’re doing better than I thought because we’re such a strong drive through destination. Eighty percent of the people who come here are repeat guests, so they understand that there’s things for them to do outside.” Downey added that numbers have improved, but remain down 10 percent from the year.

Part of the reason numbers remain lower is because businesses have reduced hours and limited capacity due to a limited workforce.

So what does 10 percent down mean? In Pigeon Forge that’s more than $200 million dollars in lost revenue just in that one city. It does not take into account the rest of the tourism industry in Sevier County.

Businesses are optimistic, and Maples said they’re paying more so that people aren’t making more to stay home.

“We’re pretty confident that we’re going to, things are just back to normal as far as we’re concerned. Other than just the extra masks and the things we’re having to do that we didn’t have to do before,” he said. “Yes there’s some financial loss, but we’ll make that up.”

He's looking forward to a strong fall and Winterfest season needing employees.

Lodging, a good indicator of how many people are visiting, is still down 17 percent for the year comparing month to month.

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