Summer isn't the only season for tourism in the Scenic City and surrounding area.
With the crisp air and changing leaf colors also comes a new set of visitors, with a slew of attractions to keep them here.
Fairs and festivals, staples of autumn, draw tens of thousands of people to their respective communities, and local tourism officials say this year is on track to be better than previous years.
"There's no question that summer is still the heaviest of periods, but for fall there is a huge tourism base from out of town that is looking to come to our destinations," said Steve Genovesi, vice president of sales and marketing for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They go to these festivals for a long weekend ... and people are also coming in, spending a couple nights here and going to the attractions."
Prater's Mill Country Fair director Sherry Sexton said the 40-year-old Dalton, Ga., area fair brings a boost to the area's local economy. The 8,000 to 10,000 person crowd of visitors each year not only helps keep the fair going, but pumps money into local businesses, she said.
"A lot of people come and spend the weekend visiting family or other parts of the community," Sexton said. "Hotels and restaurant business really climbs ... If you stop and think, it has to impact other businesses if you have anywhere between 8,000 to10,000 people coming through your county. Gas has to be bought and all sorts of things."
Cindy Milligan, director of the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association, said over the past two years several fairs and festivals in the area have had record attendance, but on the whole "it's been a mixed bag." She said it's unclear whether the economy or weather conditions have played a larger role in some of the attendance dips, but she suspects it's a combination of both.
Attendance at this year's Hamilton County Fair was down to about 16,000, compared to last year's 40,000, but it rained both days, Milligan said.
In Whitwell, Tenn., owner of Ketner's Mill, Frank McDonald, is gearing up for crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 for the 34th annual Ketner's Mill Country Arts Fair Saturday and next Sunday. He said last year the fair took a nosedive from the economy, but if his conversations with exhibitors and community members are any indication, this year should put the fair back on track.
"This being the third year of a down economy, I'm actually pretty hopeful about it," McDonald said. "I think that while businesses are not doing what they have been doing, I think that things have stabilized and there's not as much fear in the air about what is going to happen."
Local fair organizers said one benefit they have on their side is the fact that their events are low -cost or free, a real draw when times are lean.
EXPANDING TOURIST APPEAL
The abundance of fall fairs and festivals in the area creates an opportunity for the local tourism industry to expand the peak season, continuing to pour dollars into the community.
Genovesi said keeping business flowing even as the traditional tourism season drops off is important for the success of the industry and for keeping people working throughout the year. Over the past several years, he said, Chattanooga has begun attracting a new fall audience made up of couples without children.
These visitors are not only attracted by the fairs and festivals, but will also spend money in the community and at the city's traditional tourist attractions, he said.
"There's a very large traveling audience - people without kids, or possibly retired - that we're seeing a huge growth in," Genovesi said. "With that kind of demographic, those couples are also interested in dining and lodging ... that's an audience we want to continue to grow."