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Editorial: Tourism offers boost

Last yearís growth in tourism revenue for Rowan County provides a welcome bright spot amid a spate of gloomy economic reports. The question is whether that trend will continue in the face of rising gas prices, increased fees and service cutbacks at some destinations and consumers who remain worried about their personal balance sheets.
Tourism officials credit well-targeted marketing efforts with helping to spur a 5.4 percent increase in tourism spending in Rowan County last year. Creating a joint marketing committee enabled the county and city tourism development authorities to consolidate some resources and more sharply focus their marketing energies, delivering more bang for the buck. You need attractive tourism destinations to market, and Rowan County certainly has those, with destinations such as Dan Nicholas Park, the N.C. Transportation Museum and the areaís many historic sites. In addition to those tourism standbys, the city also has increased its efforts to draw more visitors downtown through outdoor concerts, ěNight Outî merchant events, cycling competitions, festivals and other events. Those events have the twofold benefit of putting more people on the sidewalk, while offering low-cost ó or even no-cost ó entertainment options close to home.
So far, that strategy appears to be paying off, but tourism efforts continue to fight economic headwinds. Last monthís increase in the unemployment rate may bring some further tightening of householdsí discretionary spending on vacations and entertainment; ditto for gasoline prices, which have eased a bit recently but still remain higher than a year ago. Meanwhile, budget cutbacks have forced some popular Rowan destinations to make changes. The N.C. Transportation Museum recently instituted admission fees, and Dan Nicholas Park has had to shorten its hours. Other parks and museums around the country are making similar adjustments.
Tourism is an important segment of the local economy, representing expenditures of more than $124 million in the county last year. Tourism officials canít control the economy. But they can hone their marketing efforts, look for ways to leverage resources and develop new events to bring in visitors. Those strategies appear to be paying off and should yield greater dividends when the overall economy does improve and people are inclined to travel and spend more freely.

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