Philosophically, we’re on the same page as the Johnston mayor who was no fan of the county’s tax on hotel stays. If he had his druthers, this mayor said, Johnston County would end its room tax and then post billboards on Interstate 95 saying, “Stop and stay in Johnston County tax free.”
Granted, our mayor friend never said how he would pay for promotional billboards without revenue from a room tax, but we get his point. Among the many places to stop along I-95, Johnston County might be able to distinguish itself simply by being the cheapest place to sleep overnight.
It’s not that Johnston is without attractions. The county is home to many tourist draws: Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, Carolina Premium Outlets, the Ava Gardner Museum, Clemmons Educational State Forest, wineries, golf courses, even a distillery, and the list goes on.
But we suspect even the good folks at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau would concede that many people who stay here overnight do so because they’re on their way to somewhere else. Many are New Yorkers headed to and from their winter homes in Florida, and they stop here for dinner and bed before continuing their journey.
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But no matter the reason for the overnight stay, visitors are staying in Johnston County, and they’re doing so in pretty good numbers. According to the latest figures from the state, visitor spending in Johnston climbed 5.1 percent in 2014 from the year before.
The Visitors Bureau and its room tax would no doubt like to take credit for the increase in visitor spending, and perhaps that’s fair. The Visitors Bureau, for example, is confident its latest billboard campaign, which promotes specific I-95 exits, is behind the increase in spending.
But it might be true too that visitor spending is growing simply because the economy is improving. Which is to say we’d feel better about the latest spending numbers if they came with more insight into what brings people to Johnston County. Is it simply the hotel rooms on I-95? Is it the many attractions? Maybe it’s a combination of the two.
The answer to that question matters, because every day in this county, innkeepers and their guests pay tax dollars to Johnston County. It would be nice to know, perhaps through a comprehensive survey of visitors, if those tax dollars are promoting Johnston for the actual reasons people come here.