Editorial: Rowan’s welcome mat stays busy
One of Rowan Countyís major industries is humming along nicely this year ó this month especially. It has annual revenues of more than $120 million and is growing steadily.
Best of all, it generates tax revenue that doesnít come from local taxpayersí wallets.
The industry is tourism, and Rowan County is in the midst of one of its two peak months for visitors ó May and October. If you think those months are big because of NASCAR races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, youíre partially right. NASCAR fans will max out most local hotels during next weekendís Coca-Cola 600. But between the cooling of NASCARís white-hot popularity over the past four years, the boom in hotel construction near the speedway and lingering effects of the recession, the racesí impact on Rowan has lessened.
James Meacham, executive director of the Rowan County Tourism Authority, says race fans are booking rooms later and coming for two nights instead of three. And their interest in the Sprint All-Star race has weakened. Make no mistake ó the NASCAR races still bring in good business, Meacham says, but not like they used to.
Not to worry. According Meacham, other events and trends continue to drive local hotel occupancy up. College graduations in May and homecomings in October have grown into major events, with Livingstone and Catawba colleges pulling in families from all over.
Figures for overnight weekend stays have softened, Meacham says, but day trippers still come in a steady stream to see attractions like the Lazy 5 Ranch, Patterson Farms, N.C. Transportation Museum and Dan Nicholas Park. And business travel is strong, he says, with local motels seeing their highest occupancy on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursday.
The most recent year for which Meacham has revenue totals is 2009, when Rowan was one of the few counties in the state to see an increase in tourism. That total was $120 million. Meacham says all the matrixes that he sees point to increases in 2010 and 2011.
The Big Kahuna on the horizon is the Democratic National Convention, slated for Charlotte in September 2012. For four or five nights, Democrats will fill some 15,000 rooms in the region, ěmore than NASCAR will ever do,î Meacham says.
The city and county each have a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax, which largely goes toward marketing Rowan as a tourism destination. But sales taxes generated by visitors help support local government and our quality of life here. Think of it as an upward spiral ó areas with a better quality of life tend to attract more visitors, who generate more revenue that helps to continue to improve our quality of life, and so on. Tourism may peak in May and October,but it benefits Rowan County all year long.