Surry Business

For and about business in Surry County, N.C., including Dobson, Elkin, Lowgap, Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy

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‘Sustainable tourism’ can keep visitors coming back

August 10th, 2007 · No Comments

Will the Mayberry/Mount Airy connection or the Yadkin Valley vineyards and wineries attract more tourists to Surry County?

Don’t overlook the powerful attraction of scenery, including the county’s four rivers and many streams; Pilot Mountain State Park and Fisher River Park and local parks; old farms and modern vineyards; Raven Knob Scout Camp and other outdoor recreational facilities; historic downtown districts, museums and other cultural attractions; walking, horseback riding and bicycling trails; and the Blue Ridge Mountains looming in the background.

A new study from Appalachian State University says nearly half of the visitors to northwest North Carolina come here for relaxation or to “escape” metropolitan life’s frantic hustle and bustle. A third say they come for the area’s scenic drives, principally the Blue Ridge Parkway. A fourth say they’re seeking outdoor activities. And the main attraction for one out of every seven visitors is a historic or cultural site.

“Sustainable tourism such as ecotourism and cultural/heritage tourism is what brings people to the area,” emphasized Mike Evans from ASU’s Walker College of Business. “Individual policy makers” — including business people as well as public officials — “need to understand that if they want tourism, they need to protect the product.”

Evans and his colleagues, Dr. Dinesh Dave and Dr. Jim Stoddard, spoke recently in Boone about their report, the second in an annual series, titled “2006 Survey of Visitors to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.” It is based on a survey of 4,713 visitors to some of the heritage area’s major attractions, including Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, and at state and regional welcome centers. The 25-county region stretches from Surry County to Cherokee County.

“This survey clearly shows how important the Blue Ridge Parkway, scenic byways, charming downtown areas and other scenic areas in specific counties are in drawing visitors to the region,” Evans said, according to an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times. “One of our main industries will continue to be tourism. Policymakers and leaders who want to encourage tourism in the region need to have a sustainable focus….”

Putting emphasis on preserving and enhancing the area’s natural beauty and high-quality outdoors experience will help other tourism-focused enterprises such as craft markets, museums and music festivals that tourists also visit while they’re here. This focus also will attract more permanent residents, Evans said.

“The reason people are coming here, buying second homes and becoming members of clubs in the region is because of the natural beauty of region,” he explained. “We need to do everything we can to protect that.”

The survey also reported on tourists’ spending. The average day tripper (about 19 percent of all people surveyed) spent $61.09 per day. The average per-person, per-day expenditure for overnight visitors (72 percent) was $107.59.

“Our demographics support the national profile of the heritage/cultural traveler, who is a baby boomer, very well educated and with a higher income than the national median,” Evans noted.

The visitor survey was sponsored in part by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.

Tags: Economic development · Tourism

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