Tourism spending increases in Rowan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY – Riding a statewide tourism surge, Rowan County visitor spending hit an all-time high last year, rising 5.4 percent from 2009 levels.
In 2010, visitors spent $124.59 million in the county, compared to $118.5 million in 2009, according to data from the N.C. Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development.
Tourism-related businesses in Rowan County generated $4.12 million in taxes for local governments and $7.19 million in state taxes last year.
Overall, the state’s tourism expenditures rose 9 percent to just over $17 billion, after dropping 7.4 percent to $15.6 billion in 2009.
James Meacham, executive director of the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, credits the county’s tourism growth to a recent increase in local marketing efforts.
“It’s proof positive that investment in more marketing and development for travel and tourism – when economic conditions are right – will pay off,” Meacham said. “And 2010 was better than 2009, though it wasn’t great by any standards.”
The Rowan County and Salisbury tourism development authorities agreed in late 2009 to pool their marketing dollars and create the Joint Tourism Marketing Committee.
Rowan County was only one of 6 North Carolina counties where tourism expenditures grew in 2009. In 2010, 98 of the state’s counties saw an increase.
The rate of change varies widely among counties, from a 0.7 percent loss in Northampton County to 15.2 percent growth in Hoke County.
Meacham said many of the visitors to North Carolina drive in from others in the Southeast. In the wake of an economic recession, many tourists are now looking for short trips that don’t take much out of their wallets.
“North Carolina is blessed to have great mountains, great beaches and a great heartland,” he said. “With a North Carolina vacation, you can have a great time, but it’s not going to cost you what a Disney World vacation will cost you.”
Three counties had more than $1 billion in visitor spending in 2010 – Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford – while Dare, Buncombe, Forsyth and Durham counties all had more than half a billion in spending.
The visitor spending figures are the results of an annual study commissioned by the Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development and conducted by the U.S. Travel Association. The study uses sales and tax revenue data plus employment figures to determine the overall impact of visitor spending in North Carolina.
The state’s tourism industry directly employs more than 183,000 North Carolina residents. In Rowan County, it is responsible for 1,180 jobs with an annual payroll of $20.43 million.
Meacham said tourism revenues generated in Salisbury and Rowan County by overnight visitors are up 4.34% through June 2011 compared to the same time period in 2010.
“The partnership between the two TDAs continues to flourish, in my opinion,” Meacham said. “At least through 2010, the results are in the numbers.”
In addition to marketing, word of mouth can be a powerful tourism booster.
Chuck Simpson’s family came from Marion to camp at Dan Nicholas Park this weekend. He said they first found the park while visiting Rowan County two or three years ago.
“We went to the (N.C.) Transportation Museum in Spencer, and we were looking for something else to do when we found out about this park,“ Simpson said. “We met some folks staying in the campgrounds, and they recommended it to us.”
Simpson said he is “very impressed” with what the park has to offer. His wife, Michelle, agreed and said she’d like to come back to the area.
“All the activities are very family oriented,” she said. “And you have a great town here.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222. Twitter:
Biggest draws
Top tourist attractions in Rowan County in 2010 by annual attendance
1. Dan Nicholas Park, 750,000 visitors
2. Lazy 5 Ranch, undisclosed
3. N.C. Transportation Museum, 108,000 visitors
4. Patterson Farm, undisclosed
Runner-up: Downtown Salisbury. Tough to count visitors, but likely one of the top tourist attractions.
Rowan County Tourism 
Development Authority
Top tourist events in Rowan County by attendance
1. Autumn Jubilee, two-day festival at Dan Nicholas Park, 60,000 visitors
2. Rowan County Fair, one-week event at the fairgrounds, 50,000 visitors
3. Thomas the Tank, two weekends at N.C. Transportation Museum, 30,000 visitors (This event likely generates the highest number of overnight stays.)
— Source: Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, December 2010

County     (millions) Percent Change 2009-10 Payroll (millions) Employment (thousands) State Tax Receipts (mil.) Local Tax Receipts (mil.) 
ROWAN     $124.59  5.4  ?   $20.43    1.18    $7.19    $4.12
CABARRUS  $312.92  6.9     $68.92        3.68    $19.65    $5.18 
DAVIDSON   $118.92 10.7     $16.84        0.88        $7.13    $4.08
DAVIE       $28.48  7.5       $5.12        0.26        $1.70    $0.53  
IREDELL     $180.96 10.2     $28.42        1.59    $10.81    $5.92
STANLY       $61.54  1.5       $8.14        0.45        $3.80    $1.96
STATE $17,015.70  9.0 $3,995.79 183.88 $946.05 $543.78
 N.C. Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development