Strong Summer of Tourism in High Country, Businesses Report Year-Over-Year Increases

Published Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 2:25 pm

By Jesse Wood

After speaking with a number of business owners across a variety of industries in Watauga and Avery counties and looking at the occupancy tax revenue in Watauga County, this past summer was a busy one in terms of summer tourism.

“We were jammin’. It was very busy. Thankfully, it went very well,” said Dominic Geraghty, a native Englishman and co-owner of Eat Crow restaurant in Foscoe. “We are all very [exhausted].”

Sandy Bryum, owner of Troy’s Diner in Boone, also had a “very good summer,” which featured a mix of locals, daytrippers, weekend warriors and and seasonal residents.

“We’re very lucky Boone has such a sustainable presence in the tourism industry and if I am busy, then the shops are busy, the motels are busy, the rental houses are busy,” Byrum said, adding that she’s heard positive reports from builders, realtors and other business owners.

Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) Executive Director Wright Tilley shared the occupancy tax revenue figures with High Country Press that show double-digit, year-over-year growth so far for 2015 and this summer.

In terms of summer, Blowing Rock was up more than 12 percent for June, about 14 percent for July and nearly 7 percent for August over last summer. Boone was up nearly 4.5 percent in June, about 14 percent in July and just over 16 percent in August over last year. The rest of Watauga County was up 19.6 percent in June, 25.4 percent in July and 19.2 percent in August.

As for the entire county, June featured a year-over-year increase of 11.3 percent; 18.5 for July and 14.1 percent in August. While Tilley says that new reporting requirements for online travel companies contributed to July and August tax increases, those “changes alone would not have produced the large increases we saw this summer.”

“It has been a strong summer for tourism in the Boone area. Many lodging properties, attractions, and restaurants have indicated to us that they were up over last year and that the summer season was a really good one,” Tilley said. “Several visitors who called the TDA office seeking visitor information said that they were taking a vacation for the first time in several years. I think hot temperatures off the mountain, the lower gas prices and the need for a vacation helped make our summer season successful.”

High Country Press also spoke with Cathy Johnson at Mountain Dog and Friends in Foscoe; John Davis at Banner Elk Realty; Jack Sharp at Camp Sky Ranch in Blowing Rock and Toni Carlton of Carlton Galleries in Banner Elk.

“ I had a great [summer]. I am very pleased,” Johnson with Mountain Dog and Friends said.

Johnson added that this is the best summer/year so far in her nearly five years in business.

On the adventure side of things, Jack Sharp of Sky Valley Zip Tours and Camp Sky Ranch in Blowing Rock said that the “really great summer [was] punctuated by the beautiful weather.”

“I think we’ve had a really great summer… It seems like people were traveling and the economy was such that people were out spending money and getting to enjoy the area’s offerings,” Sharp said.

Sharp noted that his guests were coming to town and taking in multiple attractions, such as visiting Tweetsie and going rafting after ziplining at Sky Valley Tours, which has also seen its business increase year-over-year.

Just down the road on N.C. 105 near Foscoe and Banner Elk, Carlton Galleries noted that this summer has been just as great as last summer, which was apparently very nice as well.

“It’s been great – even this last weekend with all the rain. A lot of people came in. We offered art demonstrations inside and it gave people an indoor event when they couldn’t be outside golfing or playing tennis or hiking,” Carlton said.

Carlton noted that July, August and October are the three peak months for the gallery.

Two of those months – July and August – are two of the biggest sales months of the year in the real estate world, according to John Davis of Banner Elk Realty, who has been in the business locally for 35 years.

Davis said that August “certainly didn’t disappoint” and that he hopes October will be the same. Davis noted that this year was better than last year.

“We had quite a few sales this year, more than last year,” Davis said, adding that the High Country Association of Realtors reported that this summer has been the “busiest” since 2007. “So, it’s certainly spicking up.”

Davis mentioned that since the High Country is a tourist region with plenty of second homes, we lag behind other areas in the country as far as the “general trends” go.

“Folks tend to take care of business at home before they start looking for a second home, and, of course, Banner Elk is a solid resort area. The second-home business has been good. It’s a lot better than it has been and looks to continue,” Davis said. “It seems like we continue to climb out of the downturn.”

TDA

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