Bible Bee latest in Sevierville's religious tourism

11:04 PM, Nov 16, 2012   |    comments
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It's no secret Sevier County is a hot tourist destination. And many visitors making an impact are practicing their faith in the process.

Tourism numbers released in September show a boom for the area during the first half of 2012.

When it comes to the number of hotel rooms sold, Sevier County experienced a 10.5 percent increase from January to July 2012 when compared to the same time last year, according to UT Tourism Management Professor Dr. Steve Morse.

The Sevier County Chamber of Commerce says the market for faith-based organizations is growing like never before.

"The faith-based market always has been a major player in supporting our tourism economy in Sevier County," says Chamber CEO Brenda McCroskey. "The market is now developing at a rapid pace."

The latest example is the 1,200 to 1,500 people staying at Sevierville's Wilderness Lodge and Event Center this week to attend the National Bible Bee.

Students from all over the country studied for months, some memorizing up to 700 bible versus, to be prepared to recite at the event.

The grand prize for the senior level winner is $100,000 cash or scholarship.

It was the first time Sevierville hosted the event and the CEO of the Bible Bee's sponsor organization, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, says it's been a great experience.

"Sevierville was very attractive to us, and the Pigeon Forge Gatlinburg area, very attractive to us because of its family friendly nature," says CEO Mark McMahan. "Certainly the Event Center here being attached to the Wilderness Lodge, and the Smokies was a fabulous location for us."

Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear says his city is also seeing benefits from religious tourism.

They're currently working on the LeConte Center, which is scheduled to open in September 2013.

At 232,000 square feet, he says it will attract a national market.

And they've already got several lined up, including the southern gospel National Quartet Foundation in 2014.

They're projecting 40,000 visitors and an $8 million economic impact, according to Wear.

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