TN Tourism: Pigeon Forge reopening, but no quick fix

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) — Pigeon Forge is a city with just over 6,000 people, with revenue last year from tourism around $1.5 billion. This year, the numbers for March and April look different due to closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

There haven’t been groups of people in the city for more than a month, due to COVID-19, and with the majority of businesses relying on tourists to stay afloat. Reopening the county won’t be a quick fix.

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David Martinez, an employee at a The Toychest Company at The Island, describes being out of work for a few weeks as not only difficult, but hard to continue.

“It’s been hard because we all depend on this work, in this area it’s very important to keep places open. That’s the way that we live,” Martinez said.

Inside the store, the Toychest team is deep cleaning ahead of their May 1st reopening. They’re hopeful they’ll have customers, but realize that leisure travel isn’t top of mind for many Americans and in some cases, still is not encouraged.

RELATED: The Island in Pigeon Forge to reopen May 1

“[Our customers] most of them are tourists, they’re coming from all over the place. That’s why we have to be careful with everybody that we receive here,” Martinez said.

The staff at The Island rearranged the outdoor seating area to accommodate fewer people and keep at least 6-feet of distance to comply with social distancing guidelines. They work with masks and gloves to disinfect the property ahead of the May 1 reopening date for many of the retail and restaurant stores.

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“The tourism industry is all we have in Sevier County and it’s been devastated with this virus, as you can imagine. In fact, now, even today, leisure travel is not recommended. We understand that. It’s not time to start marketing people to come in,” Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear said.

The impacts of the pandemic seen in a new outdoor layout, to keep small groups 6 feet apart. Mayor Wear says the city marketing campaigns to visit are on hold until leisure travel is allowed again. But remains adamant that tourism will be back in full force.

“It won’t be the amount of people that we’re used to. But it also provides us with a good ramp-up period to get businesses open,” Wear said.

Emptiness at the LeConte Center, yet another sign of the Coronavirus’ impact. Last year 390,000 came through their doors, with total revenue from tourism for the city totaling $1.5 billion in 2019.

“Every destination in America is under the same as we are. None of us has ever experienced anything like this,” said Leon Downey, Director of the Department of Tourism for Pigeon Forge.


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