Tourism spending in Rowan grows for 10th straight year, faster than state average
SALISBURY — For the 10th straight year, a rising tide is lifting tourism’s boat in Rowan County.
Visitor spending in Rowan County increased by 5.7% in 2018, compared to a 4.67% growth rate in 2017. That means the amount of money being spent by visitors is growing and at a steeper rate, according to a news release from the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In 2018, visitor spending brought $184.67 million to the county, which supported 1,480 jobs and generated $6 million in tax revenue, the Convention and Visitors Bureau said. Those numbers also represent increases over 2017.
“We are all pleased to see healthy and sustained growth in Rowan County’s tourism economy, as growth in tourism is beneficial for the entire Rowan County economy and community at large,” said James Meacham, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The continued growth is attributed to the hard work and dedication put in by Rowan County’s tourism-related businesses, organizations, their team members, and the community welcoming visitors.”
Specific, large-scale events that have contributed to increased tourism spending, the Convention and Visitors Bureau said, include the N.C. Main Street Conference, held in Salisbury this year; the Little League Eastern Regional World Series Tournament; and Day Out With Thomas and the Polar Express.
And an individual site showing proof of growth is the N.C. Transportation Museum, which reported a record number of visitors in 2018. Earlier this year, the museum reported 143,993 people visited the Spencer-based museum in 2018, an increase of more than 3,000 people from the prior year.
Executive Director Kelly Alexander told the Post the museum wants “to be an economic driver to our community.”
At Patterson Farm, Michelle Patterson said agritourism has become a major part of the company’s business. Visitors generally come from a 60-mile radius for the farm’s educational field trips but have traveled to Rowan from as far away as Raleigh or Columbia, South Carolina.
And lately, Patterson Farm has been adding more educational field trips.
“We’re trying to get more into developing what we believe are unique experiences on the farm,” Patterson said, noting its farm-to-table dinners and theater at the farm events.
Morgan Ridge Vineyards and Morgan Ridge Railwalk, Brewery and Eatery may be a testament to the growing tourism industry in Rowan. In 2016, the company opened its brewery downtown, expanding on success at the vineyard. And Morgan Ridge is planning to enclose its pavilion to allow for events year-round.
Has the business’ expansion into new areas paid off?
“Certainly, no doubt about that” is Amie Baudoin’s answer.
“A part of our business is dependent on weather, and we’ve had a really good summer,” Baudoin said. “Our growth this past year has been amazing.”
The Convention and Visitors Bureau said trends point to continued growth this year. Spending in Rowan County by overnight visitors was up 9.5% in fiscal year 2019, which ended in June, as compared to fiscal year 2018. Through June, the local lodging sector is up 7.8 percent compared to the same period in 2018.
Baudoin said she’s optimistic about future growth for her business and Rowan County as a whole, saying Salisbury is a “great stopover for people traveling,” as it’s located between Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad region.
Rowan County’s newest hotel, the 93-room Hilton Home 2 located on Jake Alexander Boulevard in Salisbury, opened this month. And the Convention and Visitors Bureau said in its news release that business travel to Rowan County would be bolstered in the future with additions to the market that include a Chewy.com distribution center and existing industry expansions.
Krista Osterweil, general manager of the Hampton Inn on Jake Alexander Boulevard, said business travelers are the primary customer staying at the hotel, which has seen an uptick in business year over year, particularly on so-called shoulder nights. Osterweil said “shoulder nights” are those bordering busier times such as weekends or big events.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau, Osterweil said, does a good job planning events to fill up hotel rooms when they otherwise might not be booked.
Rowan was not the only county in the region seeing growth in tourism dollars. Neighboring county growth rates were 5% for Cabarrus, 4% for Davie, 5.3% for Davidson, 5.8% for Iredell, 5.6% for Mecklenburg and 4.5% for Stanly.
The visitor spending study, which determined the growth rates, was commissioned by Visit North Carolina and conducted by the U.S. Travel Association. The annual study uses sales and tax revenue data, employment figures and other economic data to determine the impact of spending. Because of the formula, it’s possible visitor spending includes Rowan residents who are spending money at sites elsewhere in the county.
The study found that spending grew across the state in 2018, with domestic visitors spending $25.3 billion statewide, an increase of 5.6% over the prior year. That means Rowan grew slightly faster than the state average. Visitor spending supported more than 230,000 jobs across the state.
“North Carolina’s tourism industry set a new record last year in visitor spending despite the effects of the storms,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “This is a testament to the lasting beauty of our state and the determination of our people.”