Tourism spending in Haywood up 5 percent
Statistics from the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development show that domestic visitors to and within Haywood County spent $126.35 million in 2012, an increase of 4.95 percent from 2011.
Despite the rainy weather that's lingered most of the summer, especially on weekends, 2013 appears it will be about the same or down just slightly.
“Tourism has always been vital to our local economy,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “For the past three years, we have seen an increase in visitor spending. The collaboration of business and community leaders are to be credited for the increase of consumer spending in the county. The Haywood TDA looks forward to continued economic success.”
While it has been an unusually rainy summer, Molly Schroer with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said the park has still experienced a great tourism season so far.
“We started the year pretty low — numbers were down and we attribute that to the landslide on Newfound Road,” she said.
The road being closed slowed traffic to the park in between Tennessee and North Carolina, but once the road was repaired in April, visitors made a come back. She said numbers for May, June and July are all up “a good amount” over last year.
June 2013 was up 5.2 percent as compared with June 2012. During June 2013 a total of 1,264,490 visitors came into the park which is 62,434 more than in 2012.
Visitation for January through June 2013, however, is 5.3 percent below the 2012’s January to June visitation. The park has recorded a total of 3,770,790 visitors in 2013 which is 210,568 less than what was seen during the same period in 2012.
“Rain hasn’t deterred people from coming in the park – the trend has been sunny days and rain in the afternoon so people still have time to come do things,” she said.
Some areas of the park have remained closed for the year due to budget restraints, including the Balsam Mountain Campground and Picnic Area (including the associated Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads) and the Tow String Horse Camp.
Schroer said those closures may have had a slight impact, “but it’s really not reflected in the numbers.”
The park also is looking forward to a busy fall. While the most visited month is usually July, the second busiest month is a toss up between June and October depending on the weather.
“October is a very heavily visited month, especially on weekends,” she said.
Many tourists make a point of driving through the park during the fall for the beautiful colors, but Kathy Mathews, Western Carolina University’s fall foliage forecaster, has predicted that the record rain fall may put a damper on the intensity of leaf colors.
“With record rainfall during July, the trees in the mountains look healthy and green at the moment, and that’s a good thing for the trees,” said Mathews. “But leaf-lookers need to keep their fingers crossed for some drier weather in the next couple of months in order for us to see the development of vibrant fall leaf color.”
Schroer said she is still hopeful for leaf season and a busy October.
“Leaf color depends on what happens right before they turn,” she said. “We just hope the moisture will keep them on the trees for longer, and we hope for warm sunny days and cool nights.”
Lisa Brandon, partner coordinator and community outreach with Blue Ridge Parkway, said the road counters were showing a slight decrease in traffic from last year.
"But our partners and staff in the field say it doesn't feel like that — they feel we've had some good traffic this summer," she said.
While 1.8 million visited the parkway last July, only 1.5 million visited in July 2013. In 2012, the parkway attracted more than 15 million people — about 6.3 million have visited the parkway so far this year.
Liz Smith, office manager at Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley, said business has bee a little slower compared to last year, but not a drastic decrease by any means.
“It’s been a tiny bit slower, but the weather didn’t affect us because most of our guests come from Florida for the cooler weather. They don’t care so much about a little rain,” she said. “It’s still 100 degrees in Florida and even though it rains a lot down there, it just makes it more humid.”
Tourism is one of Haywood’s most important industries and directly employs more than 1,310 in Haywood County. According to state stats, the total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Haywood County was $23.71 million. State tax revenue generated in Haywood County totaled $11.39 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income.
Gov. Pat McCrory announced in May that visitors to North Carolina spent a record $19.4 billion in 2012, an increase of 5.4 percent from 2011. These statistics are from the “2012 Economic Impact Of Travel On North Carolina Counties.” The study was prepared for the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development by the U.S. Travel Association.
According to the state, state tax receipts as a result of visitor spending neared $1 billion in 2012 and have increased 42 percent in the last 10 years.
Visitors spend more than $53 million per day in North Carolina and contribute over $4.2 million per day in state and local tax revenues as a result of that spending (about $2.7 million in state taxes and $1.6 million in local taxes).
The travel and tourism industry directly employees nearly 200,000 North Carolinians.