The Department of Tourism is looking to add online booking to its new website "to allow visitors to book lodging reservations, buy tickets to entertainment and attractions and, eventually, purchase merchandise."
The question being debated may sound familiar to Scottish Tourism operators - Would the one-stop-shop be a boon for tourism? Or, by routing vacation shoppers through a government-owned site, will the change prove the bane of some businesses?
The idea of a booking engine on the city-owned website has been under discussion for more than a year, and it was reported that "focus group members" (yes they have them in Pigeon Forge too) asked for the additional functionality.
The Tourist Board executive, sorry Department of Tourism representative used the quote that appears to be completely interchangeable with public marketing sector bodies across the world
"We think it's a great idea that needs to be pursued;We feel like it's the right thing to do for our businesses. It's the right thing to do for our guests. The needs of our guests come first."But Pigeon Forge has its own doubters! And a local internet marketing consultant is adamantly opposed to the city getting into the booking business.
"A public owned booking site will take business from businesses and charge the businesses for doing it," he said. "Three or four businesses in town sell tickets (to theaters and attractions). If the city sells tickets, the city will be in competition with them."
The consultant who works with lodging, entertainment and attractions companies, said the city's booking engine could take traffic away from businesses' websites, which could drop the businesses' sites in online rankings and lead to fewer direct connections with potential customers. Rhodes also is concerned about potential profits for the city from the site, money that would come from area businesses and he calculated that
if half the businesses in Pigeon Forge participate in the venture and the city receives a 10 percent commission on each purchase - a percentage the public body didn't refute - the city could make millions.
Referring to a previous presentation, the consultant said the site could evolve past lodging and tickets into retail, with the city selling T-shirts and trinkets online. "Down the road, it's going to keep costing and costing and costing business owners," Rhodes said. "At some point, the city might as well put a sign on the Department of Tourism building that says, 'Pigeon Forge Stores.' "
And we thought we were a lone voice...