Tourism contributed more than $310 million to the Twin Counties economy in 2013, and local officials said they are hoping for even more in 2014.
“With tourism comes more occupancy in hotels, more diners in restaurants and more shoppers in retail stores,” said Nash County Executive Director of Travel and Tourism Alexandra Boncek. “Those are people who are infusing cash in the local economy, but not taxing the infrastructure as a resident.”
The N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development recently announced a 4.1 percent increase in tourism across North Carolina from 2012 to 2013, contributing $20.2 billion to the state economy. The local impact in Nash County was a 0.4 percent increase to $257.73 million. Since the Edgecombe County Tourism Development Authority is new, the association has no local comparison, stating that tourism brought $53.58 million to the county.
“We are fairly new to the tourism effort, but by better preparing our tourism assets and marketing them, we definitely can grow that number,” said Edgecombe Assistant County Manager Eric Evans. “To get this amount of money in the county with little-to-no effort indicates this really is the floor, not the ceiling. There is a lot of room for growth in this sector of our economy.”
The travel and tourism industry directly employs more than 2,800 people in Nash County and 350 people in Edgecombe County, generating $48.62 million and $7.15 million in payroll respectively. Evans said as the Rocky Mount Sports Complex continues to succeed, Edgecombe County will benefit since the hotels in Rocky Mount cannot support all who attend some of the largest tournaments, which means athletes’ families will stay in Tarboro and discover the historic side of the county.
“Any place that is competing with all other places has to accentuate the positives and separate themselves based on their uniqueness. Edgecombe County has quite a collection of historical properties and historical significance that is unique,” Evans said. “... A lot don’t know that when the N.C. General Assembly decided to move the state capital from New Bern to a more centralized location, they narrowed it down to Raleigh and Tarboro. They say Tarboro only lost by two votes, which is an interesting fact most don’t know.”
The activities supported by natural geography – including the Tar River and vast parks systems – is a growing market for tourism officials in both counties.
“We’ve had an uptick in visitors looking for physical activities like trails for hiking, canoeing and kayaking,” Boncek said. “We get four or five calls a week from people asking where they can fish, which we didn’t get last year. People are looking for more organic experiences, and the Twin Counties has that to offer them.”