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Scenic byways and downtown areas help sustain region’s tourism industry

D06_10area53_t.jpgBOONE—Elected officials, business people and others working to sustain or grow tourism in the 25-countyWestern North Carolina region must work together to protect the natural beauty that draws tourists to the area.

“Individual policy makers need to understand that if they want tourism, they need to protect the product,” said Mike Evans, a professor in the Walker College of Business’ Department of Management at Appalachian State University. “Sustainable tourism such as ecotourism and cultural/heritage tourism is what brings people to the area.”

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Scenic drives, like those along the Blue Ridge Parkway, help sustain Western North Carolina’s tourism industry, according to a survey conducted by Appalachian State University business professors.

Evans, along with Dr. Dinesh Davé and Dr. Jim Stoddard from the Walker College of Business, conducted the study of visitor interests for the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, which stretches from Surry County in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina to Cherokee County in the western section of the state.

The report titled “2006 Survey of Visitors to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area” is available at www.blueridgeheritage.com/aboutus/research.html. The survey, a follow-up to a 2005 regional visitor survey, looked at the multiple activities that people engage in while visiting the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

At the top of the list were scenic drives on parkways, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway (32.16 percent). Outdoor recreation was the second most frequented activity (24.69 percent), followed by visiting historic sites (16.77 percent).

“This survey clearly shows how important the Blue Ridge Parkway, scenic byways, charming downtown areas and other scenic areas in specific counties are in drawing visitors to the region,” Evans said.

“One of our main industries will continue to be tourism,” he added. “Policymakers and leaders who want to encourage tourism in the region need to have a sustainable focus that includes working with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the state and others to make it convenient for tourists to find natural spaces, and that protects view sheds and open spaces,” he said.

“The reason people are coming here, buying second homes and becoming members of clubs in the region is because of the natural beauty of region. We need to do everything we can to protect that,” Evans said.

That type of focus will also benefit niche markets, such as craft areas, museums and music festivals, which tourists also visit once in the area, Evans said.

According to the survey, visitors come to the region for relaxation/escape (48 percent), to spend time with family and/or friends (28 percent) and outdoor adventure (10 percent).

The average expenditure per person per day for the day tripper was $61.09. The average per person per day expenditure for overnight visitors was $107.59. Those passing through the area spent an average $58.64.

“Our demographics support the national profile of the heritage/cultural traveler, who is a baby boomer, very well educated and with a higher income than the national median,” Evans said.

According to the survey, the average visitor to the BRNHA was 51 years old with an average household income of $67,111.

Nineteen percent of the respondents identified themselves as day trippers, 72 percent as overnight visitors, and 9 percent as just passing through. Overnight visitors spent two to three nights in the region.

A total of 4,713 individuals participated in the study. Visitors were surveyed at some of the region’s larger attractions, such as Biltmore House, Chimney Rock, Cherokee, Grandfather Mountain and Shelton Vineyards. Visitors also were interviewed at the state and regional welcome centers in the region. “This was a major data collection effort,” Evans said.

The visitor survey was sponsored in part by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, designated by Congress in an act that was

signed into law by President Bush in November 2003, works to protect, preserve, interpret and develop the unique natural, historic and cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations, and in so doing to stimulate improved economic opportunity in the region.

National Heritage Areas are locally governed institutions that encourage residents, non-profit groups, government agencies, and private partners to work together in planning and implementing programs that preserve and celebrate America’s defining landscapes.

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