As Chatham tourism spending grows, hospitality professionals expecting more in future

Posted 9/6/19

PITTSBORO — The news released last week was exciting for Neha Shah, who couldn’t contain her pleasure at discussing the numbers the next day.

Visitor spending in Chatham County reached $36.89 …

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As Chatham tourism spending grows, hospitality professionals expecting more in future

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Posted

PITTSBORO — The news released last week was exciting for Neha Shah, who couldn’t contain her pleasure at discussing the numbers the next day.

Visitor spending in Chatham County reached $36.89 million in 2018, a 5.4 percent increase from 2017 and a record high.

“It’s good to see that Chatham County, with our limitation in accommodations, is thriving in all other aspects of tourism and hospitality,” Shah, the director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Thursday. “It’s an indicator that when we do have more accommodations, we will have even better economic impact.”

The statistics were announced last Wednesday as part of an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, and the positive numbers don’t stop at general spending. According to the study, tourism in Chatham last year generated:

• $4.74 million in wages for tourism industry workers

• $2.17 million in state tax revenue through state sales and excise taxes and personal and corporate income taxes

• Around $680,000 in local city and county taxes through sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses

• $37.45 in tax savings per resident

That last number, Shah said, is in effect how much each Chatham resident doesn’t have to pay in taxes to keep essential government services afloat.

“They’re coming and they’re spending that money without ever using our human or social services,” she said. “That’s extra money that we’re not counting on through property tax or people who live here paying different taxes. We put those dollars toward the residents.”

These results, as last week’s release from Chatham County government noted, came as part of nine consecutive years of increases in economic impact and a sizable increase from the earliest statistics are available. In 1990, the county saw $9.92 million in tourism spending. Ten years later, that number went to $16.6 million. Nineteen years later, that number has more than doubled, and the county government has noticed.

“With the combination of our rich historical and cultural sites, along with our recent developments and attractions, Chatham County residents and employees have long known how great of a community this is to live, work and raise their families,” Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne said in the release. “It is exciting that many folks from other areas are now discovering what a special place Chatham County is, and we hope that they will come back to enjoy future visits as well as spread the word with others about the greatness of Chatham County.”

The increase has come despite the county not having a chain hotel for people to stay in. That will change in a few years — a Hampton Inn is slated to locate and hold 120 rooms in the Mosaic development at the front of Chatham Park — but in the meantime, other hospitality businesses have filled the gap. Theresa Chiettini, the general manager at Fearrington House Inn, said in the county press release that Fearrington Village as a whole has seen increasingly diverse reasons for visitors.

“Fearrington Village has been a touchpoint for Chatham County tourism for over 30 years now, and we are starting to see a real shift in the way our visitors find out about us and how they spend their time with us,” Chiettini said. “Our inn and fine-dining restaurant have always been a big draw for special occasions, but we are seeing more guests coming for the day to enjoy our shops, casual dining and a visit with the farm animals.”

When the hotel comes, Shah said, facilities like the Chatham County Agricultural & Conference Center will be able to host larger events like those at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic & Conference Center, which has multiple hotels within a short radius, in nearby Lee County.

“That was our hope and our goal and I think we’re on track to that,” Shah said. “Everything we do is just good preparation for when that landscape changes. Our conference center, our hope was when we have one or two hotels close to the conference center, we will have our meetings shift from 4-6 hour or day long to 2-3 day long meetings.”

The news came a few months after, in May, an announcement from the state that visitors to North Carolina spent $25.3 billion in 2018, a 5.6 percent increase from 2017.

“The numbers confirm the strength of North Carolina’s tourism industry as an anchor of economic development,” Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit North Carolina, said in a release. “As the No. 6 state in the country for overnight visitation, we can attribute our success to the natural beauty and authenticity that visitors experience, and to a passionate effort to inform and inspire travelers. The money they spend benefits everyone by sustaining jobs and reducing our residents’ tax burden.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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