Making a community so cool that people want to visit from all over is about more than bragging rights.
A robust tourism industry lowers taxes, puts people to work and improves the quality of life by putting cultural destinations just a short walk or drive from home.
That’s the pitch the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau is making as it embarks on a year-long strategy to lure in the next decade substantially more overnight visitors than last year’s 15.6 million, who spent $2.4 billion here – both records.
The plan was announced Thursday to more than 575 tourism industry representatives from around the county at the Raleigh Convention Center. Bureau president and CEO Dennis Edwards emphasized that the whole county can benefit through a coordinated approach.
“This is not a downtown Raleigh plan,” Edwards told reporters. “It’s not a Raleigh plan. It’s a Wake County plan.”
15.6 million visitors to Wake County in 2016
$2.4 billion in direct spending
19 million visitors goal by 2028
The visitors bureau has hired Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based commercial real estate and investment management firm with an office in Raleigh, to develop the plan through a series of focus groups, meetings with local government officials and stakeholders’ input to a new website, www.wakecountydsp.com.
Edwards said they hope to answer these questions:
▪ What draws overnight visitors to Wake County now? How can those attractions be enhanced?
▪ Is there something new that the county can introduce that will bring in more tourists?
▪ What can be done to improve the market after evaluating the various events and activities that are held throughout the year?
The consultants also will take a look at regional plans that have already been done, including the downtown Raleigh master plan, a city transit plan and the Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s strategic plan. Unlike those, however, the new plan will focus on tourists not residents.
Tourist-related taxes go to help pay for schools, water and sewer, and other necessities, keeping taxes lower than they would be otherwise. The industry hires a lot of people – more than 25,000 jobs – and in fact can’t fill all the openings it has at restaurants and hotels.
Edwards said overnight visitors to Wake County come from all over the world for conventions, sports events or leisure. They’re drawn by live music, craft beer, acclaimed restaurants as well as museums and other arts and cultural attractions.
Where they come from
Thirty-nine percent of overnight visitors to Wake County from 2014 to 2016 came from North Carolina. The top 10 states of origin:
North Carolina, 39.1 percent
Virginia, 14.8 percent
New York, 4.6 percent
Florida, 4.5 percent
South Carolina, 3.4 percent
Maryland, 3 percent
Pennsylvania, 2.1 percent
Tennessee, 2 percent
Texas, 2 percent
Georgia, 2 percent