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Three quaint little East Tennessee cities—Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge—are besting competitors like Myrtle Beach and Panama City when it comes to tourism and hotel room sales.

The trend will likely continue through this month and December, a boon for Sevier County as it enters the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, said Steve Morse, an economist and associate professor in the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management.

Sevier County, which drives the East Tennessee vacation market, had an 8.4 percent increase in hotel room sales from January to September this year compared to the same nine-month period last year, according to Morse’s study.

In comparison, competitive vacation destinations like Daytona Beach, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, saw only a 3.3 percent and 3 percent increase in hotel room sales, respectively. Panama City, Florida, saw no increase and Branson, Missouri, saw a 2 percent decrease, according to the study.

“Sevier County has a brand and it’s just three words: value, family, and vacation,” Morse said. “A brand is nothing more than a promise to a customer, and Sevier County has been delivering on that promise for the last twenty years.”

Morse noted that despite the $179 million BP oil company pumped into tourism marketing for the Gulf Coast after the 2010 oil spill, Sevier County still surpassed the area in tourism.

“Even during a recession, people are still finding value in Sevier County, which is probably why they did better than their competitors,” he said.

Gas prices also worked in Sevier County’s favor.

Vacationers from feeder cities including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia chose Sevier County because of distance.

“A lot of these people think, ‘Why go all the way to the central coast of Florida when we can save the money and cut out two days of driving?'”

To receive copies of the study, e-mail or


Steve Morse (865-850-9319,

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,