Branding the Great Smoky Mountains – Dolly Parton Style

A group, developer, and even celebrities have put many places on the map. Cities and regions have specific identities where people, over the course of history, have built the physical land into the destinations they are today. A relatively recent large-scale example would be Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Both the developers and the government (in many times a combination) have been driving traffic there by promoting Dubai as the opulent oasis of the Arab world featuring the tallest of buildings, most luxurious of hotels, and even an indoor ski mountain to beat the desert climate. Dubai takes every opportunity to upkeep it’s brand as a top spot for business and leisure travel.

Now let’s explore a place where celebrity has used their brand to put a region on the map. Not Hollywood, Las Vegas, or Orlando (does Mickey Mouse count as a celebrity?). I am thinking about rural Appalachia and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Can you guess which celebrity made Pigeon Forge into a travel destination? Dolly Parton! She was born and raised in nearby Sevierville, Tennessee, and after reaching star status went back to her roots in 1986 and revived an old amusement park in Pigeon Forge. “Dollywood” ( now attracts millions of visitors each year and is the largest employer in the area. Numerous supporting hotels, restaurants, and other attractions are also adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dollywood is known for showcasing the unique crafts, music, and artifacts of the Smoky Mountain area.

Wildly popular herself, Dolly Parton’s brand has impacted the local Pigeon Forge community tremendously. She created a philanthropic foundation to help local schools and built a platform where local people can work and be proud of what their region has to offer. This is a great example of “which came first – the chicken or the egg?” Without Dolly there would be no Dollywood, but without the Great Smoky Mountain culture there may have been no Dolly Parton.

I am planning a trip to Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains in a few months and hope to get a closer look at her branding methods and the related impact on the region.

Take a look at this promotional video highlighting the 25th anniversary of Dollywood last year. Enjoy!


2 responses to “Branding the Great Smoky Mountains – Dolly Parton Style

  1. This is so true!!! Its crazy how one individual can personify a destination! This tends to always be a good opportunity for the individual, however, it is always good for the destination??

    • Good point, Mike. In this case, I think it is good for the destination. Rural Appalachia has long been a territory with high unemployment and a host of other socio-economic problems. Essentially she helped create jobs beyond the gates of Dollywood like the supporting tourism venues (hotels, restaurants, etc) and got people working. I’m trying to think of an example where the destination was hurt by an individual’s branding…. Do you have one in mind?

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