Fast Facts About Mike Gwinn
Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
Favorite Bible Verse:
“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
— Phillipian 1:6
Hometown: Spartanburg, South Carolina
Favorite Destination: “I love the Grand Canyon, especially the South Rim — I love the lay of the land and I love the views. We stayed at El Tovar, and when you look out the window, there’s the Grand Canyon!”
Hobbies: Gwinn leads worship at church, loves to take annual road trips with his wife and plays several instruments. He especially loves bluegrass and mountain music. He has been known to board motorcoaches of groups visiting Pigeon Forge dressed in historic Appalachian clothing and perform a few tunes.
Mike Gwinn has helped countless people navigate the ins and outs of the region around Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, over the years. He’s been in the area working in tourism since 1995 but has had a lifetime of involvement in church ministry. He sees a service connection between spiritual leadership and the art of hospitality: Listening, giving, helping and problem solving are key skillsets in both. Gwinn finds a natural correlation between serving people in hospitality and in ministry.
“I could call it ministry or I could call it customer service,” he said. “It’s the art of helping and listening and finding solutions wherever there are issues. One of the first things I learned when I came here to Pigeon Forge was how to prepare for groups, and it was an extension of ministry to me to be able to achieve whatever they needed.”
Now senior sales manager at the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, Gwinn holds a B.A. in religious studies from Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. He worked in church ministry for most of his adult life in both full-time and part-time capacities. His background in ministry — giving time to help groups of people — prepared him well for a career helping people while they’re traveling.
“My degree is in the service industry, but instead of being in hospitality, a degree in religious studies gave me a foundation to being helpful to groups of people,” Gwinn said. “It gave me a foundation of who I am, what I believe, what my passions are, what my convictions are and what I stand for.”
He says that while he thinks those most in need of spiritual help may seek it in a church, he has found that people traveling are also in need and seeking help — even if it means making a personal connection with someone like himself and having a conversation.
“I’m a giver and have a heart to serve, which really helped me to get a grasp and understanding of what it meant to give someone a good experience,” says Gwinn. “I’ve been in ministry my whole life. That really aligns well with hospitality. I really enjoy people who acknowledge you and who are available to help, and I’ve developed an intolerance for poor customer service.”
Gwinn, along with his wife, Kathy, is also an avid traveler. They take a two-week road trip each year to a different destination, whether that’s Alaska (where he had to hide in an outhouse to escape a moose), Cape Cod or Vancouver, where they’re on the receiving end of the hospitality Gwinn practices the rest of the year. Those experiences, both good and bad, have helped him identify how he can better serve visitors in his day-to-day experiences at work.
He cites one memorable experience where a restaurant server said, “Yes, I would be delighted to make that happen for you,” which for Gwinn encapsulated everything the hospitality industry is all about.
“We don’t ever say, ‘that’s not my job,’” he said. “We say, ‘If I don’t know the answer to that, I will find the answer. And if I have the ability to make that happen for you, I will.’”
Gwinn has never been happier with his career than in joining the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism and being able to represent the region he’s lived in for nearly 30 years. He encourages those who might be interested in working in tourism to go for it, especially if they like to be around people and have a natural affinity for hospitality. Best of all, he says, are the people you meet and form bonds with.
“I’d tell people to do it in a heartbeat, because you’re going to develop so many wonderful relationships,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a one-time hit that touches people forever, and other times it will be people who become lifelong friends. This is a wonderful industry to be a part of. If you love being around people, it’s the best thing to do.”
1. Be flexible. As much as we would like for everything to go as planned, it often does not. Patience over frustration will help both sides.
2. Enjoy the journey as much as you do the destination. Many times, the most precious memories are the ones made along the way.
3. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Every moment is better when infused with a sense of thanksgiving.