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Sevier County Market Update: December 2016

IMEG - The Trusted Agency for the Tourism & Hospitality Industry / blog / Sevier County Market Update: December 2016
Smoky Mountain Wildfire Perception

Sevier County Market Update: December 2016

At IMEG, we have been working with local government and other organizations to provide services, data and insights to help solve some of the problems problems with housing, communication, PR and marketing. We wanted to share this data with you to help our local businesses and community receive insights on the market.

During week 1, we were able to reach 13,921,579 people (23 people per second) with the facts of the situation and loss to the area. The media's image, and what was being spread to the masses, was that Gatlinburg was gone and Dollywood, Ripley's and other core attractions to our area and economy were lost in the fire. We felt it was critical to get the facts out to preserve what we could of our tourism-driven economy. We immediately jumped into action to help with the misinformation.

If you are in the lodging industry, you know the thousands of calls that were coming in daily, of concerned guests cancelling reservations - even in areas completely untouched. This cost us revenue losses for our businesses and local economy. We are continuing our efforts to gain public perception back.

We recently performed 3 research projects. The first is our public perception infographic of the impact of the wildfires in the Smoky Mountains. This research is based on 11,426 respondents to a survey from December 3-6, 2016.

Wildfire Info graph Preview

Click above to view the full infograph

The second research project was performed on December 9-12, 2016. We surveyed 520 people who were 150+ miles away from home who were visiting Gatlinburg on reopening weekend. We asked their perception of Gatlinburg during opening weekend.

Infograph Preview

Click to view full infograph

As you can see from the first 2 infographics, it would appear that public perception is good and business should be thriving. However, when you dig into actions of people (and not just what they say in the research studies), this is not the case. The data is very incongruent. At IMEG, we live by the saying - “if you want to understand a lion, go to the jungle - not the zoo.” So, for the 3rd project, we began to dig into what people were doing and not just what they were saying. First, we looked into intent. We analyzed people online and this is what we found:

People Looking for Lodging 2015 vs. 2016 (November 19-December 17)

Looking for Lodging Up/Down 2016 vs. 2015
Gatlinburg Hotels -75%
Pigeon Forge Hotels +25%
Pigeon Forge Cabins -41%
Gatlinburg Cabins -66%

As you can see, fewer people are looking to book, so the confidence they had, while it might be honest, shows they still have doubts in the short term.

We continued by analyzing over 2 million comments about the area to see why this might be. We pulled those comments into our proprietary social context software that is amazing at natural language processing. It can make sense of comments and conversation from sentiment, context, tonality and other language attributes. We found that we really have 4 types of people. As you could see in the perception study, 100% said they were confident in the area and would visit. However, have analyzing conversations and comments on social platforms, we found: 45% were sad and not as confident as they stated, 43% were actually confident, 7% were angry and 5% had fear. This helps explain why fewer people are looking to come to the area this year as compared to last year. We were also able to dig deeper and segment these people into the following groups as well.

Reasons People Are Not Coming to the Area

  • Guilt. Even though they said they were confident in the area, if they visited, they would feel guilty for coming since so many people and the media (social proof) have shared about how “bad” it is. Over 2,000 people lost properties and homes, 196 people were injured and 14 people lost their lives. How could we visit anytime soon and not feel guilty for having a fun, relaxing vacation in area with so much devastation? 
  • Some are waiting to see what others say after they visit. Local businesses saying all is great may help some regain their confidence, but to truly regain confidence, it needs to come from peers. (Social Proof) 
  • Based on projection of the media and the photos people are sharing on social channels, some people think the area really is nearly gone. 
  • Some are coming and even making a special trip to the area, but they are doing a short trip and spending time and money donating and volunteering rather than spending time and money in our restaurants and shops.

What You Can Do to Help

  1. Try not to share negative media and photos such as things on fire and burned areas. The mass majority of the area is untouched by the fires, but there are many more people sharing burned areas. That is all people see - not near as many are sharing that the mass majority of the area is untouched. 
  2. While we are rebuilding some areas, the key tourist hotspots are just the same. Saying “rebuild” in most or all of your content leaves doubt in their minds and, as we said, most people do not want to come relax and have fun in an area where people are saying they are “rebuilding their lives.” 
  3. Monitor your social media closely and if people have questions, answer them promptly and positively. Many times, they are asking questions just to see how you respond to regain a little bit of confidence that the area is doing well. We have seen some businesses say things like - “We did take a lot of loss, but we are open for business.” While this may be true, it’s best to be as positive as you can be while still being honest and not misleading. 
  4. Build the emotion of:
  • We’re still here
  • We WANT visitors
  • We WANT people to ENJOY their visit and continue making wonderful memories. We also want people to SHARE those memories on social media.

If you would like to stay updated on any research and information and get our free social proof tool for your own website, fill out the short form below. This is provided to you at no cost. Also, please be sure and use our free resource http://www.mountaintough.org that was developed for the local city and county governments.


We are dedicated to the Smoky Mountain market and we are here to help local businesses succeed during this time. Reach out to use with any feedback or suggestions at

More research, insights and updates coming soon!

I imagine a world where, every day, people wake up and live an inspired life and not just exist. In a world where people think for themselves, in a world where people constantly become a better version of themselves every single day and live in their telos.

I am fascinated by human behavior, human potential, business, teleology, psychotechnology, travel and goats. I have devoted my life to the study of human behavior, challenging status quo and inspiring others to give up fear and excuses to be who they really want to be.

I am best known for marketing, work ethic and thinking differently. I am fascinated by leaders of today and the past who have made great impacts on society. I am dedicated to lifelong study, personal achievement, constant growth and inspiring others to take action to get what they want.

Justin Jones