An investment that pays good dividends

Published 5:24 am Sunday, February 22, 2009

By Staff
Lynn Lewis, Washington’s tourism-development director, said last week the Washington City Council will receive this message Monday: Investing in tourism is investing in economic development.
It is a message all of us need to hear and, more importantly, take to heart.
So, when Judy Randall, an expert on tourism, speaks to the council Monday, lots of people should be listening. After listening, they should be prepared to act.
Just ask downtown merchants and restaurant owners — those who took advantage of it — about the positive impact the recent East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and North Carolina Decoy Carving Championships had on their cash registers. That weekend is proof that investing in tourism is indeed investing in economic development.
Ask them if they aren’t looking forward to the third weekend in April when about 700 bicyclists will be in the city for Cycle North Carolina’s spring event.
The Washington Tourism Development Authority invests money each year in an effort to bring more people to Washington for overnight stays. These days, it makes sense for the WTDA to go after North Carolina folks who have never visited Washington and surrounding areas. With more and more North Carolina residents taking fewer vacations to out-of-state destinations such as Disney World in Florida or the Grand Canyon in Arizona because of a lousy economy, why not try to bring those folks to the Heart of the Inner Banks for several days or a day trip?
When people visit the area, they spend money at inns, hotels, bed-and-breakfast establishments, camping area and RV havens. They spend money at restaurants, gas stations, sporting-goods stores and gift shops. Those innkeepers, merchants and restaurant owners are our neighbors, family members and co-workers.
In 2007, tourism-related activities in Beaufort County generated an economic impact — lodging, meals, fuel purchases — of $64.97 million in 2007, a 5.2 percent increase over 2006, according to a statewide study. That year, 2007, marked the sixth straight year the county’s tourism-related revenues exceeded the $50 million mark. Since 1990, the county’s tourism revenue has more than doubled. In 1990, those revenues were reported at $26.64 million.
According to the Division of Tourism, an arm of the N.C. Department of Commerce, about 450 jobs in Beaufort County were directly attributable to travel and tourism in 2007. Travel and tourism generated a payroll of $8.79 million in 2007, according to Division of Tourism data.
That’s economic development, plain and simple.