ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County saw the sixth-largest increase across the state in visitor spending for 2018, according to a study announced Thursday.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office released the information — citing a study commissioned by Visit North Carolina — touting that all 100 counties in the Tar Heel State saw growth.
Visitors to Richmond County spent 6.7 percent more than the previous year, according to the report.
“(T)his is a strong affirmation of Richmond County as a tourism destination and the efforts of the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority over the last several years to promote tourism and visitors spending dollars here,” Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump said in an email. “I mainly credit the push of our rich outdoor heritage and many outdoor related opportunities available here. But there is a host of factors responsible for this success.”
The Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail, the Pee Dee River and the Sandhills Game Lands are among the locations for outdoor activities.
County Manager Bryan Land said it was “great recognition” for Richmond to be listed in the top 10.
“When Richmond County ranks with the likes of Brunswick, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Dare, Wake, Beaufort … which are all huge tourist-driven areas, it definitely tells me we are headed in the right direction,” Land said.
He attributed the success largely to the Epicenter Festival held at Rockingham Dragway this past May.
However, the Richmond Observer could not confirm if the figures were from fiscal year 2018-19 or from the 2018 calendar year.
The county also boasts Discovery Place Kids in Rockingham, the Rankin Museum of American Heritage — which features an exhibit on wrestling legend Andre the Giant — in Ellerbe and two train museums in Hamlet.
According to state statistics, 2018 saw the sixth-highest growth increase in 20 years. The highest were 10.4 percent in 2002 and 9.2 percent in 2011. There was also an 11.7 percent drop in 2009.
According to the governor’s office, the study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, is conducted by the U.S. Travel Association and “uses sales and tax revenue data, employment figures and other industry and economic data to determine the overall impact of visitor spending.”
Domestic visitors spent a record $25.3 billion statewide in 2018, an increase of 5.6 percent from 2017, according to the governor’s office. Visitor expenditures directly supported more than 230,000 jobs and generated more than $6.3 billion in payroll income across the state.
“North Carolina’s tourism industry set a new record last year in visitor spending despite the effects of the storms,” Cooper said in a statement. “This is a testament to the lasting beauty of our state and the determination of our people.”
Visit NC Executive Director Wit Tuttell noted that N.C. ranks sixth in the nation for overnight visitation.
“There’s a lot of competition for travelers’ time and money,” Tuttell said. “But people come to North Carolina when they know about the state’s natural beauty, our residents’ welcoming spirit, and the irresistible mix of tradition and innovation.”
All eight economic development regions saw at least 5 percent growth, with the most being in the Southeast, North Central and Western regions, according to the governor’s office.