N.C. tourism industry urges 'smart' travel as visitors dwindle

Posted March 2, 2009 4:52 p.m. EST
Updated September 8, 2009 8:27 a.m. EDT

— Leaders from North Carolina's tourism and hospitality industry, in Raleigh for a three-day conference, on Monday discussed how to deal with falling numbers of visitors.

In 2008, the state saw 5 percent fewer visitors than in the previous year, according to the state Department of Commerce.

Owners of rental homes and hotels along the coast said they've already seen some cancellations for this summer.

State leaders, though, said that affordable travel is still within the means of families and businesses being careful with their dollars. They urged those in the tourism industry to use that psychology.

"Just like we, as consumers, are being prudent in how we spend dollars, corporations and businesses and associations have to do the same thing," said Lynn Minges, DOC's assistant secretary for tourism, marketing and global branding. "But travel in and of itself is not a bad thing, and we need to stand up and say that pretty boldly."

Visitors bureaus from around the Triangle released a statement taking that position. Several hotel chains, including the Marriott and Hilton, also sent a letter to Congress, asking members to stop slamming business travel.

Political pressure has prompted some national companies to cancel planned trips, including several high-profile conferences in Las Vegas.

Last week, ElectriCities, which manages Rocky Mount's and other municipal power agencies, canceled a two-day, $166,000 conference at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. As reasons for the cancellation, company officials cited, in part, public perception of business spending amid a recession. Canceling its reservation cost ElectriCities $62,866.

North Carolina's hotel, restaurant and resort industries employ about 10 percent of the state's work force. In 2007, visitors spent a record $16.5 billion, creating 190,000 jobs, nearly $4.2 billion in payroll income and nearly $2.7 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.