Sevier County businesses gear up for first spring break after wildfires

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Spring break is one of the most exciting times of the year for people vacationing, but for those in the tourism business, it’s one of the most important.

“Spring break is one of our busiest times of the year,” said Dustyn Ivey with Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. “It’s right up there with summer as we see a huge influx of people at the middle to end of March and almost all of April. People from all around, so, it’s really, really important to us and we count on that every year for it to be a big boost for us, and the whole city of Gatlinburg really.”

Unlike hotels and cabins that most visitors book in advance, it isn’t always easy to tell how busy any given day or week might be.

“A lot of people like to decide when they come, said Ivey. “But a lot of people do like to plan in advance as well, so, they’ll like to come and check out the aquarium or maybe they want to check out some other parts of Gatlinburg. They’re rebuilding the sky lift right now, we’ve got Believe It or Not, a ton of great things going on around here so some people like to decide when they come, some people like to decide before hand.”

When people come to visit attractions they need a place to stay. This year has been a slow start for many cabin companies.

During the wildfires, Auntie Belham’s Cabin Rentals in Pigeon Forge lost 19 of their 140 cabins.

“January and February were very slow,” said Owner John Madewell. “Normally we have a pretty good weekend in January with Martin Luther King Day but that didn’t really come through like everybody had hoped.

Madewell says he is hoping the next few weeks will see a boost in visitors.

“Right now March isn’t as strong as it was 2016,” said Madewell. “2016 was a phenomenal year for pretty much everyone, but April is stronger than 2016 so far. Looking at them together, we’re off a little, but we knew we were going to be off some because of the number of properties that we lost.”

Made well says Pigeon Forge is just a good of place to spring break as any beach town. It offers similar attractions but different scenery.

“Unless you’re going to go to Panama City, down to the Florida Beaches, Destin, Myrtle Beach is still pretty cold,” said Madewell. “Here there’s a lot of things open you can do. There’s every attraction here that you’re going to have at Myrtle Beach and more.

Madewell says he is hoping people will see the area is still intact and want to come.

“Pigeon Forge from an attraction standpoint, from a business standpoint was unscathed,” said Madewell. “You can’t tell in Pigeon Forge there was even fires over here. Dollywood is up and running March 18 and things are in full swing. We just need people to come.”

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