Visitor spending up in Central Carolina

Aug. 17, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

Gov. Pat McCrory and Department of Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker announced this week that 95 of North Carolina's 100 counties saw an increase in visitor spending in 2013. That increase includes all four counties — Lee, Chatham, Harnett and Moore — in the Central Carolina region.

According to figures from the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, visitors to the state spent more than $20 billion, a 4.2 percent increase from 2012. The report also stated that the expenditures directly supported 198,270 jobs in the state.

"North Carolina continues to show that it is one of the most sought-after vacation spots in the country," McCrory said in a press release. "These statistics are no surprise; tourism stimulates our economy and encourages visitors to consider moving to our great state. The 2013 tourism dollars prove our cultural resources are just as big of a draw as our natural ones."

Lee County was one of those 95 counties on an upswing, with tourists and visitors to the county spending nearly $68 million, a 4.5 percent increase from last year.

Bob Joyce, president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, said that increase was likely reflective of business travel to the county instead of what he called “minivans with luggage on top.”

“We have a lot of business travelers that stop here,” he said. “When people are salespeople, traveling in North Carolina, we’re often a place to stop at night.”

He said that hoteliers he talks to regularly sell out rooms Monday through Thursday, but not necessarily on the weekend, indicative of the salesperson making a pitch to an industry like Caterpillar or J.T. Davenport the next day. Joyce also said those looking for retirement options in Central Carolina might stop in the city for a day or two, also a stream of money there.

“We're having more interest and more people stop by the Chamber that are considering retiring to central North Carolina and they're just touring,” Joyce said. “While that's not a huge part, I think it's a small part of it, but an important part.”

Joyce also said that the Chamber has had “visits from a major hotel chain site-selection consultant.” He wouldn't say which one, but he took it as a positive sign.

“If we're beginning to show up on the radar of site-selection people, it shows that business travel is increasing, that general travel is increasing,” he said.

According to the press release, Moore County was one of the leading counties in terms of visitor expenditures, receiving just a shade under $410 million from tourists, also a 4.5 percent jump. Harnett County saw $74.55 million in spending from visitors, a 3.9 percent increase, while those visiting Chatham County spent $30.77 million for a 4.4 percent increase.

Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, the state's largest city, received more than $4.6 billion in travelers’ expenditures to lead all counties. Wake County was second with almost $1.9 billion, while Guilford was third with $1.2 billion.

“Tourism is a key element of our economic development strategy for North Carolina,” Decker said in the release. “It means jobs — nearly 200,000 of them across the state — for our residents. I am so pleased that every corner of North Carolina benefited from tourism.”

It's probably safe to place a bet on these numbers going up again in next year's report, which will include expenditures from the 2014 U.S. Opens in men's and women's golf that took place in June in Pinehurst. But Joyce said the “little things” in the Lee County area — a new mountain biking trail at San-Lee Park, Gross Farms and Deep River Sporting Clays — might be where the big push will come from.

“Those are more likely to boost our tourism,” he said. “We've got some low-hanging fruit that we can promote better and really boost our business. The opportunities are in building on what we already have.”