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Travel industry counts on football, special events

Tourism officials in Tennessee are counting on football games and special events to keep the travel business steady during the usually slow month of December.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tourism officials in Tennessee are counting on football games and special events to keep the travel business steady during the usually slow month of December.

December is not a key month for Tennessee tourism, a $14 billion-a-year industry. Bad weather restricts some travel, and holiday shopping and parties occupy consumers' time. Youngsters are still in school, which cuts into family travel lasting more than a weekend. And household budgets can get strained at Christmas.

"Strangely, things around the world affect our industry, too," said Douglas Browne, general manager of The Peabody in Memphis.

"Uncertainty affects people's spending," he said. "People are being much more careful."

Nashville will host the Music City Bowl Dec. 30 and Memphis will have the Liberty Bowl Dec. 31, creating an influx of visitors for the state's two largest cities.

Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have declined 6.7 percent this year, but there's plenty to do the rest of the year for those who do come.

"Winterfest in the Smokies" is celebrated by the resort towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. An event billed as "The World's Largest Outlet Extravaganza" runs through Dec. 11 with three outlet malls involved. Additionally, there are holiday shows at most of the musical theaters in Pigeon Forge. All three cities are heavily decorated with holiday lights.

"All three have made it a point to give people holiday things to do," said Rick Laney, a public relations executive who represents several businesses in the resort region.

On New Year's Eve, a ball will drop 407 feet from Gatlinburg's landmark space needle to mark the start of 2012.

In the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, 4 million lights drape the attraction as five Christmas shows are presented.

"December is one of the busier times of the year," Laney said.

In Nashville, the Rockettes are back for their 10th season with their Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Additionally, there is an ice sculpture attraction and Christmas dinner parties with singer Louise Mandrell, plus events with DreamWorks characters like Shrek.

Jack Cawthon, who owns a barbecue restaurant in the heart of Nashville's entertainment district, said business in December is good because of bowl visitors, New Year's Eve activities and other events.

"People from other cities like Birmingham drive in here just for a weekend trip," he said. "Historically it used to be a slow month, but not anymore."

Elvis Presley's Graceland home in Memphis, a top tourist draw, is decorated inside and out for Christmas. There are hundreds of blue lights along the driveway, a life-size nativity scene, Santa and his sleigh and much more originally displayed by "the king of rock 'n' roll." The interior has his traditional red velvet drapes and family Christmas artifacts on display.

In Chattanooga, "the scenic city," the Convention & Visitors Bureau says visitors can do the following:

"Sing Christmas carols on a river cruise; build gingerbread houses; catch the high tide of a tropical adventure with coral reef Santa divers; or watch the grand illumination and boat parade.

"Then just minutes away, bundle up for an amazing evening on Lookout Mountain in a nocturnal fantasyland with 1 million star-bright twinkling lights illuminating the sky; go deep below the mountain at an enchanting underground waterfall or just 15 minutes from downtown, hop on board the train for a North Pole adventure."

At the 464-room Peabody, Browne boasts that the hotel has hosted only three losing teams in some 50 years of bowl games.

"If a coach has any kind of superstition, they usually want to stay with us," he said.

And, if they win, "A lot of teams or families stay over; they are happy."

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there already have been repeated snowfalls at elevations above 3,000 feet.

"Snow puts everyone in the holiday spirit," Laney said.