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Comprehensive Travel Survey Underway in High Country Region

By Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Knowing how tourists choose their vacation destinations and activities is important information for the travel industry.

Appalachian State University business professors Mike Evans, Dinesh Davé and Jim Stoddard have begun a comprehensive survey to learn who’s visiting the six-county High Country and why.

Evans is a professor of management and director of the college’s hospitality and tourism management program. Stoddard is a professor of marketing. Davé, a professor of information technology, will manage the project database.

The study is being conducted for N.C. High Country Host and has been financed with a $10,000 grant from AdvantageWest, the regional economic development commission for Western North Carolina. The High Country counties in the survey are Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Wilkes and Watauga.

” There’s a sense that after 9/11 travel decision-making has changed,” Evans said. “We’re trying to get a real cross section of who’s coming, why, what information sources they use to plan trips and activities, and the activities they undertake while in the region.”

It’s been 10 years since a survey as comprehensive as this one has been undertaken, he said.

Information will be collected from visitors at all the major attractions in the region to better learn tourism patterns. Data will collected through Labor Day, and results should be compiled by the end of the fall.

Judy Donaghy, executive director of N.C. High Country Host, said the information will help travel industry representatives better market and promote their regions, and make decisions concerning future placement of ads in print media, or on the radio or Internet.

” We expect it to help us understand more about who our visitor currently is, and how that has changed over the years,” she said. Visitors to the area are probably younger than in years past because of changes in the economy, and their point of origin and length of stay may be changing, too, she speculates.

” Since the opening of the new state Welcome Center on I-26 north of Asheville last year, we have seen a minimum of 500 visitors a month, many from Ohio and Pennsylvania, in the Visitors Center here in Boone,” Donaghy said. “We want to find out if that is a viable market for us and do we need to spend more advertising dollars in that area.”

As North Carolina’s economy continues to evolve, more communities are looking at tourism as a way to replace jobs lost offshore, Evans said. For instance, Sparta, located in Alleghany County, is developing a teapot museum as one way to bring more visitors to the area.

” In the state’s new economy, tourism, arts, education and sports are all going to be more important factors in many rural communities because of loss of manufacturing-based jobs,” Evans said. “Tourism is becoming a catalyst for economic development and viewed as one of the things that can help support the local economy.”

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Contact: Mike Evans, professor of management, Walker College of Business, (828) 262-6222.