Tourism 2020: Vacation bookings exceed expectations in Sevier County

Local News

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Places in East Tennessee with top nationally ranked parks saw more visitors in June and July than ever before.

Between Dollywood, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and everything in between, the region is a popular destination spot. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, hotel bookings and mountain cabin rentals took a hit.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare took a trip to Sevier County to see how the hotel and rentals industry is doing.

Travelers were lined up at the front desk at the Courtyard by Marriott- Gatlinburg. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, vacationers continue to fill hotels at a pretty good rate this fall.

“The area has all this outdoor activity. People feel comfortable coming here. they know that they can isolate themselves,” Logan Coykendall, CEO of Hospitality Solutions, said.

For Hospitality Solutions which operates eight hotels around the Smokies, the virus could have devastated their business. However, visitors started returning in late spring seeking a sense of normalcy which continued through the summer and now into fall.

“I feel safe.  I feel good here,” Florida vacationer Laura Cushing said.

“This is nice, I was hoping to see some of the color and the leaves change,” another Florida vacationer, Carole Cloud, said.

“We were expecting our numbers to be way down, they spring-boarded up once we opened back up in May. June was a good month for us. July was good,” Logan Coykendall said.

Reservations for cabin rentals have soared in Gatlinburg since May.  It’s a trend managers didn’t think would happen as cabins sat empty for more than a month beginning mid-March.

“April 26th, they opened the floodgates, the phone started ringing and they have not stopped since and the people started coming, Boy, they wanted to out and be on vacation,” Pam Hill, owner of Stony Brook Cabins, said.

In Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge there are new activities to keep families busy to allow couples to get away from the chaos of big cities.

For cabin vacations they can be in alone with no one around them, an advantage that’s paying off for the industry.

“The numbers are on the books, the money is in the bank for this to be our biggest year ever. It has a lot to do with Covid,” Hill said.

But COVID-19 has kept conventions and large groups from meeting in Gatlinburg which normally fill hotels during the fall.  So, it’s the leisure travelers living in states close by Tennessee that’s keeping business going.

“We can look into the future. We can see how people are booking. Right now it looks pretty good. We probably won’t obtain the numbers we had in the last three of four years, but it’s at the level where we can do our business,” Logan Coykendall said.

And that’s the best that anyone could hope for in these circumstances.

For tourists coming from out of state, as well as many of us who live here, wanting fresh air and open spaces and spending a few days either in a cabin, or at one of the downtown Gatlinburg hotels, is the percent antidote for the COVID-19 blues.

Managers tell us that November bookings for Gatlinburg hotels are holding their own, and cabin rentals remain strong; giving a bright outlook with the circumstances of the virus.

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