Gatlinburg works to rebuild tourism after wildfires

GATLINBURG (WATE) – In the months since the wildfires in the Smokies, homes have been rebuilt, and the city of Gatlinburg has pushed to rebuild tourism.

Ads have been running, assuring potential visitors that Gatlinburg is standing strong after the fires. It’s part of a campaign the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau has focused on for the past six months.

“We did some research to kind of see what’s that level of perception and then we crafted a message specifically to that,” said Chad Netherland, Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

These ads are running in about 15 markets, including around Indianapolis where Tasha and Aaron Baker are from. The newlyweds stopped at an overlook on the Gatlinburg Bypass taking in the views with the signs of fire standing out.

“This is the closest we’ve been to any of the burn,” said Aaron Baker.

“We were sad. It was terrible,” said Tasha Baker.

They come to Gatlinburg once a year. It’s return visitors like the Bakers the city says they’ve seen the most of this year. There were about 63,000 visitors in January, February and March – down nearly 9,000 from last year.

“I think it’s a double-edged sword. You want to get out there and want to have a great message and a lot of people had an outpouring of support to the area, but then a lot of people hear just very short things and so they hear of fire and they instantly think the place was completely leveled,” said Netherland.

July is typically the busiest month of the year in Gatlinburg and with that just right around the corner, the city is hoping these marketing campaigns will help draw people back in and fill up these streets and sidewalks.

“Our websites are starting to go up and things really seem like they’re going in the right direction so fingers crossed, I think we’re pulling out of this one and we’re in the right direction,” said Netherland.

It’s a message the Bakers plan to take back home with them.

“There’s no reason not to come. There really isn’t,” said Aaron Baker.

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