Tennessee tourism copes with snow, cold
Posted: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 8:01 pm
By JOE EDWARDS
NASHVILLE (AP) — Officials at Graceland in Memphis used a small plow to clear snow so Elvis worshippers could get into his famous home for tours.
In Pigeon Forge, the Titanic Museum had an ice-carving event as an in-your-face response to winter weather.
Tennessee tourism — boosted year-round by music and mountain peaks — coped with persistent snow and bone-chilling cold weather in January.
The state, which has up to 50 million visitors annually, was hit with plentiful snow from border to border and subfreezing temperatures.
“We’re hoping the snow is out of here,” Leon Downey of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism said by telephone as he looked outside at the snow-covered hills. “But you never know about February.”
Wilderness Wildlife Week in his Smoky Mountain resort town had to curtail some of its activities because of snow. Attendance was 19,000, down from 24,000 a year earlier, but there still were visitors from 28 states for hiking, talks and related events.
“We had snow every day that week,” Downey recalled. “But I still think we had a solid month.”
In Memphis, the plow helped clear the driveway and parking lot at Graceland, which has 600,000 visitors from around the world yearly.
“The show must go on, as they say,” said Kevin Kern, a spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Graceland was closed one day during three rounds of snow.
In Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum closed for one day, costing the attraction some $7,000. The city had about 6 inches of snow in January covering three snowfalls and had five straight days of below-freezing temperatures.
“We are more than ready for some dry weather and looking forward to cherry blossoms,” said Kyle Young, museum director.
Nashville has 11 million visitors annually, many of them at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, whose 2,881 rooms draw some of the biggest gatherings in the country. Eighty percent are corporate groups.
“As long as people are able to fly in, we have very few cancellations,” said Pete Weien, senior vice president and general manager.
Travel officials in Chattanooga also report good convention business in January. A cheerleading event drew 4,000 participants and 5,700 spectators, a gathering of organic farmers had 800 and a science fiction event had 950.
“We were fortunate to have three large conventions and in all three, their numbers held strong,” said Steve Genovesi of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In Pigeon Forge, the Titanic Museum missed one day but the attraction still had January attendance of 41,000, which met projections.
The ice carving “put us over the top,” said co-owner Mary Kellogg-Joslyn.
She said bad weather actually helps psychologically.
“People get cabin fever by January and want to figure out what to do,” she said.
In Gatlinburg, business at the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort and amusement park declined “less than double digits” because of winter weather in January, spokeswoman Kathy Doyle said.
“We prefer that it only snows up on the mountain so it keeps the roads open,” she said. “But we can’t get everything we want.”
The Dollywood theme park, Pigeon Forge’s most-visited attraction, was closed in January as scheduled.
The state is within a day’s drive of 65 percent of the U.S. population, making it a popular destination. Tourism is a $14 billion-a-year industry in Tennessee.
Pigeon Forge’s Downey says some travelers actually hope to see winter weather.
“People come here from Florida wanting to see snow, and they’re disappointed if there is none.”
Published in The Messenger 2.2.11