Growing up in Northeastern Ohio, my family made a number of trips to the Great Smoky Mountains for vacations. When we did, my family typically took the same approach we used at Walt Disney World, the Outer Banks, Williamsburg or any other vacation spot we traveled to – we would see and do all there was to see and do.
As families across the country plan their summer vacations, it’s safe to say a large number of them will be headed to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the single most-visited national park in the nation with approximately 11 million annual visitors.
For almost 30 years, Ackermann PR has worked with travel and tourism clients in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park region. Because of this, we have the unique ability to study, measure and document an ongoing significant shift in tourist demographics in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.
The first shift worth noting is not necessarily unique to tourism in the Smokies, but is certainly an important mythbuster for our region. Tourism cycles are changing dramatically here in the Smokies. Tourism in the Smokies is no longer a seasonal business; it is a year-round economic generator. One important aspect of the work we do with our clients in this field is to help them understand this fundamental shift and prepare a plan to capture new business at any time of the year.
Other highlights from our most recent analysis shows that while the Smokies are a favorite destination for repeat visitors, there is still a growing market for first-time visitors.
41% of guests at higher-end resorts/lodging ($179 and up per night) over a twelve-month period were first-time visitors. These first-time visitors were a significant part of the audience for the newest attractions in the area (those open for less than three years), making up 38% of the audience at these locations. First-time visitors are also more likely to visit multiple areas within the region rather than concentrating their activities in a single location.
While most of this was not surprising to us, the extent to which the shift is taking place was dramatic. With close to half of the visitors to the newer resorts and attractions being “first-timers” to the Smoky Mountain Region – and additional new attractions springing up quickly – it would stand to reason that travel and tourism in the Smokies Region will continue to change rapidly.
One of the key changes in the face of tourism we’ve observed is that the tourists themselves are quite likely to ignore municipal boundaries and state lines while visiting the area. A visitor staying in a hotel in Pigeon Forge, for instance, may very well include a daytrip excursion to Asheville, North Carolina, or a night on the town in Knoxville, Tennessee. From this information, we have worked to build marketing and communications programs that incorporate a more regional approach for our clients.
In recent months, our regional approach to promoting the area’s tourism potential has earned media attention on National Geographic Television, the Travel Channel (twice), MTV Productions, and by Channel Four (UK) as well as numerous regional and national magazines.
The tourism industry is a challenging field and is subject to fluctuation from any number of outside factors. I believe our success in helping clients stay ahead of their competition is by our dedication to providing creative strategies based on solid research.
As someone who loved this region enough to live here while working out of an office in Chicago for more than a decade, I take great pride in the role Ackermann is playing in helping our region harvest benefits from changing tourism demographics. Our most valuable asset – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – will continue to draw those, like me, who think it is the best and most beautiful place on Earth. And those who come here would be missing out if they didn’t drink in all that this region has to offer.