Dollywood's long range plan paying off early

J. H. Osborne • Mar 19, 2017 at 3:30 PM

PIGEON FORGE — Attendance is not the only thing that has increased thanks to a 10-year, $300 million plan launched in 2013 with an eye on pushing Dollywood from a regional them park to a national destination.

So has the economic impact it and other Dollywood Company components have at the local, regional and state level.

That’s according to a study by a team at the University of Tennessee led by Dr. Burton English. It’s an update to a study the group produced four years ago, when Dolly Parton announced the company’s plan to invest $300 million between then and 2023.

The update shows the Dollywood Company’s economic impact already exceeds original projections for the 10-year period.

Dollywood’s 32nd season began Saturday. Parton has dubbed the 2017 season  “The Year of the Family” and the design and location of two new rides being added to the park’s lineup — as well as live shows and seasonal festivals —reflect that theme. One is “Drop Line,” which will take riders 230-feet into the sky before dropping them back down. Next door will be “Whistlepunk Chaser,” described as a “junior coaster” and sitting in the shadow of Dollywood’s wooden coaster “Thunderhead.” The placement will allow an option for each age group of a family within the same general area, a concept that has proved popular elsewhere in the park.

Also new this season: extended evening hours in the fall, featuring “Pumpkin Luminights” during Dollywood’s Harvest Festival, which includes the Southern Gospel Celebration during the day.

Updates to existing attractions include a makeover of “The Backstage Restaurant” to “The Front Porch Cafe.”

On Friday, Dollywood President Craig Ross released the current economic impact figures, compared to 2013, as well as updated projections for the company’s economic impact between this year and 2025.

“We are pacing much ahead of where we had intended to be, looking at it in 2013,” Ross said. “Honestly, our performance flows from the investments that we make. The stronger we perform, the stronger we get to invest.”

From Ross’s presentation:

• The 2013 study stated Dollywood then had an economic impact of $1.1 billion and the 10-year investment plan would add $150.6 million, raising the total to $1.2 billion by 2023.

• The updated study just completed shows Dollywood’s economic impact is well above that $1.2 billion and currently is stated at $1.53 billion. The new projection, with continuation of the investment plan, estimates another $315 million will be added by 2025, bringing Dollywood’s total annual economic impact to $1.84 billion.

• The 2013 study stated Dollywood supported 12,400 jobs (direct and indirect) and projected that would grow by 2,500 to total nearly 15,000 jobs by 2023.

• The updated study shows Dollywood now supports 19,285 jobs (direct and indirect), a figure projected to reach 23,248 by 2025.

• The 2013 study stated Dollywood at the time generated $64.2 million per year in state and local taxes, an amount projected to grow by $7 million and total $71.2 million by 2023.

• The updated study shows Dollywood currently generates $118 million in state and local tax revenues annually, a figure projected to grown by $13.3 million and total $131 million by 2025.

“This is thanks to our hosts, to the partners we have in this community, and our season passholders and other loyal guests who visit us,” Ross said. “It’s quite impressive what a young girl has done to impact the lives of so many people. I express that with the utmost humbleness.

hope actions show the company not only will take but is big on the giving side

We’re really, really proud of our ability to support all these jobs and work to impact this community the way we are and we feel so very fortunate and blessed.”

Attendance at the park has increased between 5 to 7 percent each year, overall. But the company’s goal of marketing to a national audience — which included building the park’s DreamMore Resort to offer onsite lodging — is clearly paying off, Ross said, noting the number of visitors from the Atlanta and Nashville markets has increased 20 percent during the same period.

“Dolly’s original intent for building Dollywood ... was to create jobs,” Dollywood Director of Communications  Pete Owens said. “To really be ... the economic engine to create an economy that was based on tourism. That’s what the Smokeys were about. She knew that this place would be someplace special for people to come visit. And the amount of work that’s gone in, and the amount of growth that’s happened over such a short amount of time is really a testament to her vision and a testament to the entire area. 

Parton was not “on park” this weekend, as she typically has been for season opening.

Owens said Parton, expected next to visit Dollywood in May, is in Los Angeles working on the third of five television movies included in her deal with NBC. Parton also is working on the music that will be featured in the new dinner show scheduled to replace “Lumberjack’s” on the Parkway this summer. Details on the new show are expected to be announced next week, but early hints are that it will —like the hugely popular two NBC movies already aired, “Coat of Many Colors” and “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” — play off Parton’s family memories.

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