MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A gateway to the Smokies is bustling. Visitor spending has grown by more than 40% in Blount County within the last fiscal year.

The Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties report reveals Blount County now ranks 8th in the state for visitor spending. In 2021, visitor expenditures capped off at $476.68 million.

While pre-pandemic tourism numbers were higher than they were now, many are hoping to keep the positive momentum going. And there were a lot of hungry appetites Thursday in Maryville for the annual ‘Taste of Blount’ food festival.

“I just think it’s really cool, Kamaryn Allison said. “I’m a huge foodie so I love getting to try all the different stuff.”

For Rocky Williams, it’s always a privilege to serve his Jamaican cuisine at his restaurant ‘Rocky’s Jamaica Sunrise’ or any other area.

He said, “Everything is all good. It’s all good, everything, people love their ribs.”

And visitors are falling in love with Blount County. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development reports the county is one of nine in Tennessee that has had more than 40% growth in year-over-year travel spending.

“Every day we meet new people,” Williams said. “People moving from other states to Tennessee.”

Is that something you enjoy?”

Williams responded, “Oh, yes.

“A community event like this is great for tourism because it gives people a glimpse of what we do in Blount County,” Blount Partnership Director of Communications Jeff Muir said. “The tourists that come and visit, these are some of the events they would like to see and it also includes possibly things they might want to move here for.”

All that money being spent by visitors also helps the taxpayers in the county.

Muir said, “The tourism dollars, what visitors spent, saved nearly $700 in people’s taxes.”

About $1.3 million dollars was spent by visitors daily in the county last year which generated more than $14 million in tax revenue.

“With the increase in tourism and stuff we see a lot more traffic and the stuff that kind of goes along with it but that’s great,” Muir said. “Those people are staying in the hotels and motels. There’s eating at the restaurants and things like that and those add savings to people’s tax dollars.”

Tourism in Knox, Sevier, and Union County also grew by more than 40% in the last fiscal year. Muir added not only is tourism in Blount County growing, so is the ‘Taste of Blount’ food festival. There were 12 new vendors this year.

During the event, Rocky Williams won the best main course award which made it 11 straight years of victory.