A local tourism official told Mount Airy Rotary Club members the city and county rely heavily on dollars generated by the tourism industry, and two Rotary members were recognized for perfect attendance spanning decades.
Jessica Roberts, director of tourism and marketing at the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, spoke to Rotary members at the club’s weekly meeting on Tuesday.
Roberts said during the three-month period from May to July more than 19,000 tourists stopped in at the visitor center downtown, a number which has continually and steadily increased in recent years. Of course, the number isn’t inclusive of all visitors, as many don’t wander into the visitor center. There are likely thousands more for which nobody can account.
Mount Airy is part of a larger, thriving tourism industry in the state of North Carolina, according to Roberts. Though Roberts’ organization is trying to diversify the area’s appeal to tourists through marketing strategies by highlighting other draws to the area such as the wine industry, 95 percent of the county’s tourism industry is still driven by “Mount Airy and Mayberry.”
That stated, Roberts said her organization puts forth a number of efforts to gain exposure for the area in the local, state, regional and national arenas. Often times, the Tourism Development Authority invites journalists from throughout the United States and abroad to tour the county. They in turn write stories.
One story about the area, which ran in a Canadian publication, equated to about $45,000 in advertising dollars saved, said Roberts. Another story about Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies which ran in Our State magazine covered four pages in the publication. The cost for four pages of advertising in the magazine would have been about $40,000.
Roberts noted her organization is, one could say, self-funded, in that all the tourism marketing is funded by a local 6 percent occupancy tax on hotel rooms, camp sites and other venues which accommodate visitors.
From 2010 to 2014, the county saw an increase of more than 28 percent in the expenditures of visitors, topping $113 million in 2014, according to statistics Roberts presented. The tourism industry directly employs about 790 people in Surry County, for a combined payroll of more than $16 million.
For the bulk of Surry County residents, the major impact of the tourism industry can be seen through its effects on the tax rate. Roberts said figures from state tax officials indicate tourism dollars fill a $254 gap in tax dollars, meaning without tourism revenues the Surry County taxpayer would need to fork over those dollars annually to pay for the current levels of services county and municipal governments provide.
Roberts said visitors are questioned about what the city can do to improve the experience the city and county provide for tourists. Though a lot of things are done well, there are some places identified for improvement. One such area is in “walkability.”
“People want to park their car and walk,” said Roberts.
One way to improve the walkability of the area is downtown accommodations, said Roberts. Another would be construction of a sidewalk from the location of most of the city’s hotels on N.C. 601 to downtown.
“For somebody from New York, that’s not too far to walk,” noted Roberts.
Roberts said another concern is the availability of activities on Sundays. Many visitors struggle to find venues at which to eat and shop on that day.
A lot of meetings
The Mount Airy Rotary Club meets weekly. Throughout the course of 52 years, that equates to 2,704 meetings.
Rotary president Lenise Lynch noted Rotary members may miss a meeting and retain their perfect attendance record by making up the meetings at other events.
Whether it was all meetings or some make-up time included, Jim Grimes has made it to a lot of Rotary functions — 52 years’ worth. The local, who once headed the Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and now runs the squad car tour business in town, said he believes he’s actually had 56 years of perfect attendance.
Grimes was awarded for his confirmed 52 years of perfect attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Tom Fawcett was awarded with a pin for 26 years of perfect attendance. Many others were awarded for one year or more.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.