The Smokies are among the oldest mountain ranges in the world, but they keep drawing visitors to Blount County like they were new attractions.

The 2018 Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties report released Tuesday shows Blount and Sevier counties finished in a virtual dead heat for the top spot when it came to increased visitor expenditures in the state.

Blount County’s 7.91% increase in visitor spending was edged out by Sevier County’s 7.97% increase last year.

“The growth of the tourism industry in the state and in particular Blount County has been tremendous,” Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority Director Kim Mitchell said in a statement. “We see these positive results as a success of our focused and strategic regional and national marking efforts to promote Blount County as a place for outdoor tourism and a meeting destination.”

Because of the taxes generated by visitor activity in Blount County, each household sees a savings of more than $700 in local and state taxes, according to the report.

The number of motels near McGhee Tyson Airport attest to the fact that business travelers contribute to the economy as well as vacationers to Townsend and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The benefits of visitation also goes beyond the direct exchange of dollars. It boosts employment. Tourism jobs in Blount County were at an all-time high of 3,650, which also led to an all-time high payroll of $109.9 million.

Blount ranked eighth among Tennessee’s 95 counties in visitor expenditures at $408 million, according to the report issued by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Statewide impact

Davidson County, including Nashville, topped all county indices with $6.9 billion in tourism economic impact. Shelby County was second at $3.7 billion, Sevier third at $2.5 billion, Knox was fourth at $1.17 billion and Hamilton fifth at $1.16 billion.

“From our thriving cities to our beautiful rural landscapes and everything in between, Tennessee has solidified its place as a leader in tourism across the country,” Gov. Bill Lee said, commenting on the report. “Our booming tourism sector is outpacing the nation in every category. World-class food, music and adventure are just a few things folks find when they come to Tennessee, and thankfully, folks are visiting this remarkable place more than ever.”

All 95 counties saw an increase in economic impact with each having more than $1 million in direct travel spending. Twenty-one counties saw more than $100 million.

“Tennessee’s diverse cities and small towns offer quality tourism products and remarkable brands that drive visitation,” Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell said. “We would not have these numbers if it weren’t for renovations, capital investments and passion shown by tourism partners across the state. The record-breaking millions who come here discover the music, history and culture, family experiences and scenic beauty that make Tennessee ‘The Soundtrack of America.’”

Lee and Ezell talked of the report’s findings while speaking at the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. They noted Tennessee’s growth is outpacing the nation in all areas of travel. That includes tax revenue, expenditures, payroll and employment.

Across Tennessee, tourism generated more than $50 million in new state and local tax dollars in 2018, about $25 million of which supports public education. Travel across the state generated 189,757 jobs and $1.81 billion in state and local tax revenue.

It’s not all due to fellow Americans traveling around the country. In 2018, Tennessee ranked No. 3, after Pennsylvania and Colorado, for international spending growth over 2017, according to Tourism Economics.

International spending growth in Tennessee is seven times the national average, with a 5.4% in-state increase compared to 0.8% in the U.S.

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