A tourist is defined as one who tours or travels. At one time or another, most everyone has been a tourist. You traveled to Myrtle Beach, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or any other destination for a day, a week or more. Yes, we are all tourists whether we travel by plane, car or bike. As we travel we spend money on gas, food, lodging, souvenirs, and entertainment, thus adding dollars to the local economy. Each dollar spent is turned over many times in the local economy.
How much money is involved? The NC State Tourism Division says about 64.5 million visitors spent $23 billion in North Carolina in 2005. This spending generated $6.2 billion in state and local tax revenues and employs nearly 335,331 people. In Ashe County, over $31.8 million came from tourism revenues. More than 360 jobs in Ashe were directly attributed to travel or tourism, generating $5.8 million in payroll. State and local taxes from tourism generated $3.85 million and represented $151 in tax savings to each county resident.
Some of our uninformed politicians and residents use the mantra that “tourism only provides seasonal and low paying jobs.” Sure, the restaurant, motel or store owner makes more money than the dishwasher, maid or store clerk, but tourism provides income for all segments of our population from the unskilled to the top of our economic ladder. Don’t forget that the sale of cattle, tobacco and Christmas trees is a very seasonal income. The Christmas tree grower must make enough during the four to six week marketing season to sustain himself and his employees for the entire year.
Tourism does have economic benefits as well as economic costs, but the benefits outweigh the cost. The tourism industry is not the sole answer to Ashe County’s economic future. Ashe County ranks 61st out of 100 counties in income from tourism. Instead of bashing tourism, why not spend your time and energy on ways of attracting tourists and taking their money. We must balance all aspects of economic development. Tourism of all types is but one piece of the economic pie; it’s time we cut ourselves a larger slice.