Visitor spending in Orange County grew 7.75 percent last year, the largest increase in the state, said a study released Tuesday.
Visitors to Orange County spent $181.65 million in 2014, according to the 2014 Economic Impact Of Travel On North Carolina Counties study. Statewide visitor spending also grew – by 5.5 percent – to a record $21.3 billion, it said.
The U.S. Travel Association study was prepared for Visit North Carolina, a unit of the public-private Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
The county’s tourism industry directly employs nearly 1,800 people, the study reported. It generates a $33.55 million payroll, $3.88 million in local tax revenues and $9.46 million in state tax revenues, it said.
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Laurie Paolicelli, the county’s director of community relations and tourism, said several things have come together to grow the local tourism industry. Paolicelli also is executive director of the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau.
“We saw increased health care-related business, resulting from software training and UNC Health Care project consultants; construction business related to new student housing; and a spike in destination weddings,” she said.
The Hampton Inn and Suites in Carrboro also saw its first full year in 2014, she said, attracting new groups.
“In fact, all of our hotels are ahead of projections in transient business and corporate meetings,” averaging 100 attendees each, Paolicelli said.
Chapel Hill’s hotel occupancy rate has increased 3 percent this year, to 66 percent, Paolicelli said at the groundbreaking this summer for a Hyatt Place Hotel. Work on the hotel is underway along U.S. 15-501, north of Market Street at Southern Village.
Other hotels are approved or possible, including a second hotel for Carrboro and one at Obey Creek, across the highway from Southern Village. Two more are proposed for downtown Chapel Hill – at West Rosemary and Church streets and on East Franklin Street near Whole Foods – and The Siena Hotel is planning a 61-room expansion.
Chapel Hill’s RevPAR numbers – the money that hotels earn each year compared with the number of rooms they have – are up almost 5 percent over last year’s numbers, Paolicelli said. Those numbers are especially important for measuring tourism and lodging, she said.
“We also attribute our multi-tiered advertising and marketing programs to our increased demand,” she said. “A number of national accolades have come to Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. All of this contributed to increased travel to Orange County.”