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Tourism In The City of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: The Engine For Economic Development

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Madlyn M. Bonimy

Bonimy augustNestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a thriving tourism destination. However, until 1940, the city of Pigeon Forge, located in eastern Tennessee, was primarily known just as a two-stoplight, sleepy farming community. The city gained in popularity with the dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited park in the United States with more than 10 million people passing through each year. Pigeon Forge, adjacent to the park, is just minutes away.

The impetus for tourism in eastern Tennessee was the 1982 World’s Fair held May 1, 1982, through October 1982. Thus, the tourism boom hit the city in 1982 and since then growth has been rapid.

Today, with a permanent population of just 5,988, the city of Pigeon Forge receives more than 9 million tourists annually. To accommodate this growing influx of tourists, hotel rooms in the city increased from 2,000 in the 1980s to more than 14,000 in 2013. Accommodations include more than 85 properties, 15 campgrounds and a number of fully equipped rental cottages, villas, bed-and-breakfast inns and condominium units.

Tourists are lured to the city of Pigeon Forge as they are attracted by the Great Smoky Mountains. Snuggled in the foothills of these mountains, the city is also home to Tennessee’s largest single attraction, Dollywood. A 140-acre theme park owned by eastern Tennessee native Dolly Parton, Dollywood is the state’s only theme park and it welcomes more than 2 million tourists each year from April through December.

In addition, the city offers a multifaceted tourism product with activities such as visiting historic and cultural sites. It also offers shopping (over 300 factory outlets), mountain visits, country music reviews and festivals. One such festival, Winterfest, a four-monthlong festival (held November to February), was created to help businesses increase revenue in the city’s offseason months. Winterfest provides tourists with musical entertainment, games, family fun, a light display of 5 million lights, smoky mountain storytelling and a Wilderness Wildlife week, where guest speakers give presentations about the flora and fauna found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through workshops, lectures and guided hikes.

Tourism generates economic development in the city of Pigeon Forge. With tourism as its main industry, it is estimated that most people in Pigeon Forge (approximately 85 percent) are employed in tourism-related jobs. In fact, the tourism industry in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee creates both direct and indirect employment.

Direct employment is necessary to serve the tourism industry. It is evident in jobs created at hotels, restaurants, shops and so forth, to serve the tourist. Indirect jobs are produced through the creation of the components of the infrastructure with skilled and unskilled jobs, such as mechanics maintaining rental cars, artisans creating items sold in shops, farmworkers, telecommunications employees, police and all manner of other jobs generated to serve the needs of the tourism industry in the city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Thus, the economy of Pigeon Forge depends heavily on the tourism industry—for employment and the generation of revenues brought into the city by business receipts and state tax revenues. In 2004, visitor spending totaled more than $713 million, reflecting a 7 percent increase over 2003 when visitor spending totaled more than $669 million. This is a 98 percent increase from 1990. Visitor spending has continued its upward trend. For example, from 2011-2013 visitor spending increased from more than $830 million to $937 million, representing a 13 percent increase.

The city of Pigeon Forge sends 6 percent of its gross revenue to the state of Tennessee. In 2013, Pigeon Forge provided $56.2 million in tax revenues to the state of Tennessee. In 2005, gross business receipts generated more than $777 million, an increase of 9 percent from 2004. From 2011-2013, gross business receipts saw a 12 percent increase totaling more than $937 million.

In conclusion, governments exist for specific purposes and they intervene in every facet of life. Governments exist to provide people valuable services that businesses or individuals are unwilling or unable to provide independently, such as natural defense, pollution control, disease control, police and fire protection and primary education. However, governments have economic functions as well. John Mikesell argues in his book Fiscal Administration: Analysis and Application for the Public Sector how “governments have economic functions: “[…] stabilization, and growth, the combat against unemployment and inflation and provision for increases in the standard of living for the citizenry […].” In line with Mikesell’s argument, tourism is the principal economic development generator in the city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Tourism in the city of Pigeon Forge involves providing recreational facilities and services, such as lodging, transportation, attractions, entertainment and food for people traveling for rest, relaxation, sport and access to culture and nature. Thus, by its very nature, tourism is characterized by urbanization and commercialization; and its obvious economic manifestations are job creation, tax revenues and income.

Governments, such as in the City of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, use tourism as an important economic development activity to combat unemployment, increase tax revenues and income and provide for the increase in the standard of living for citizens.


Author: Madlyn M. Bonimy, Ph.D. is an adjunct faculty in the College of Public Service & Urban Affairs at Tennessee State University. She has published in the areas of urban studies and tourism. Bonimy can be reached at [email protected].

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One Response to Tourism In The City of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: The Engine For Economic Development

  1. Aleighna Reply

    June 16, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    I like your post i think it can help me to find an ideal relaxation place, i hope i can visit your area as soon as possible. Thanks a lot

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