CRVA: Tourism a big economic driver for Charlotte region in 2016

Tourism figures released this week by the state show the Charlotte region raked in record dollars last year from spending generated by visitors.

That economic impact is to the tune of $6.7 billion across the Charlotte region — of which the bulk, $5.16 billion — came from visitor spending in Mecklenburg County.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a public-private partnership, released on Tuesday a county-by-county breakdown of the $22.9 billion spent by domestic travelers across the state in 2016. The report showed that visitor spending increased in 97 of North Carolina's 100 counties, led by Mecklenburg County. Wake County (Raleigh) generated about $2 billion, while Guilford (Greensboro/High Point) Dare (the Outer Banks) and Buncombe County (Asheville) counties brought in $1 billion each, according to the report, which is conducted annually by the U.S. Travel Association on behalf of Visit North Carolina — the state's tourism branch.

In 2015, North Carolina generated $21.9 billion in spending from domestic travelers, a record at the time.

But the tourism figure reported earlier this year for 2016 topped that amount despite the state's controversial House Bill 2, a piece of legislation controversial for provisions deemed discriminatory against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The law, which was replaced this spring, had passed through the N.C. General Assembly in March 2016 and caused myriad sporting events, concerts and other arts performances to pull out of Charlotte and the state.

"Charlotte's visitor economy has strengthened year after year,” Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray said in a statement Wednesday. “2016 presented both challenges and opportunities for our city and state, and we have worked hard to recruit and host impactful events that continuously enhance our city’s quality of life. We wholeheartedly believe that visitor spending enriches our community for not only those who visit here but also for all who call this community home.”

The local tourism agency said visitor spending in the region increased 2.8% from 2015 to 2016. Employment in the sector rose 2.1% year-over-year to 64,490, as payroll increased 3.6% to nearly $2.1 billion.

The CRVA pulled research from the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism for the Charlotte region's counties located in South Carolina.

While Mecklenburg County overwhelmingly captured the most local tourism dollars and had the most employees in the sector (50,770), Cabarrus County ranked second at $433 million and 4,500 tourism-sector employees. Gaston and Iredell counties came in next, with visitor spending of $251.7 million and $247.26 million, respectively. Tourism employment there was nearly matched ranging between 1,910 and 1,950 workers.

Citing data from research firm Longwoods International, the CRVA said that one million more visitors came to the Charlotte region in 2016 from the previous year, totaling 27.8 million. It also used data from travel research firm STR that showed a 3.3% increase in the number of hotel rooms sold in the Charlotte region from 2015 to 2106, totaling 9.6 million and generating $993 million in hotel room revenue.

To determine the impact of visitor spending in North Carolina, the U.S. Travel Association study accounts for sales and tax revenue data, employment figures as well as other industry and economic data.

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