Director of Sales and Advertising, Sevierville Chamber of Commerce
Tony Funderburg joined the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce team as director of sales and advertising in April of 2016 after nearly 20 years of tourism industry experience in group sales and marketing. He has previously served as the director of sales and marketing for the Edgewater Hotel and Convention Center in Gatlinburg, TN, vice president of sales and marketing at GroupConnect, and as the national sales and marketing director for International Motor Coach Group.
1. In late 2016, wildfires spread across the Great Smoky Mountains, during the height of your winter tourism season. How did you handle the evacuation of tourists? Did you work with inbound operators to reroute any exiting or incoming guests?
Thankfully Sevierville did not have any active fires during this event and did not have to evacuate. Our Sevierville hotels and cabins helped house evacuees and displaced residents and visitors in the days and weeks following the fires.
2. When you were ready to bring tourists back into the area, how did you get the message out?
Sevierville, in coordination with her sister cities Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and the state of Tennessee, worked with media and advertising partners to let people know that the Smoky Mountains were safe, beautiful and ready for their visit as quickly as possible after the fires. The most challenging aspect of that, was combating the perception that there was nothing left, when in fact, most everything was untouched. The mountains were just as beautiful as always, the attractions were just as fun and the things everyone knew and loved were ready and waiting for their visit.
Several of our media partners that we typically buy advertising from very graciously reached out, offering free advertising placement as well as media coverage. We also made sure to ramp up our 2017 advertising campaigns earlier than usual in order to make sure our visitors knew we were ready to see them. The state of Tennessee also assisted in pushing our summer travel message with a same-day ad campaign designed to reassure visitors that everything was fine. The campaign, called Smokies 24-7, was shot, edited and aired in the same day (highlighting a national newspaper with the date across the top for proof) and featured a family enjoying a great day in the Smokies.
3. What was your biggest lessons learned?
That relationships are vitally important. After the fires, our whole community leaned on each other to get through and we wouldn’t have done nearly as well if we hadn’t all been so willing and able to help one another. We also learned how much our destination meant to many of our visitors. There was a tremendous outpouring of love, support and donations.
4. What is drawing international visitors to Sevierville?
Sevierville has two major draws for international visitors. We are the hometown of music-icon Dolly Parton and we are located in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve. The natural beauty alone is incredible but when you couple that with the fun activities, Appalachian culture, down-home southern food and high-end outlet shopping, Sevierville becomes a great stay on an American holiday.
5. What is the area’s best kept secret?
Take some time to check out the back roads. Get off the main Parkway and see hidden gems like the Harrisburg Covered Bridge, the Tennessee Museum of Aviation, a winding country road, a crafter making brooms and more. There is so much to see and do. Ask our friendly residents what they recommend – you won’t be disappointed!