Wake County see surge in tourism in 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - Tourism numbers show a surge in visitors last year in Wake County despite all the boycotts caused by House Bill 2.

Numbers from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau show Wake County saw a record 15.6 million visitors in 2016 and those visitors spent $2.4 billion. The tourism industry employs 25,525 people.

Tourism leaders say the bulk of visitors came to Wake County last year for conventions, sporting events and leisure activities such as live music, craft breweries and the culinary scene.

Concerns about the impact of HB2 on tourism still linger. The controversial bill is off the books, but the majority of the conventions and events that pulled out were scheduled to take place in 2018 and 2019.

The full impact of HB2 on tourism numbers will not be evident until next year, according to tourism leaders.

"It was a very complicated piece of legislation and took a lot of creative thinking to get this law off the books and get us back in business," said North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association President Lynn D. Minges.

Tourism leaders are currently working on the Destination Strategic Plan, a 10-year-plan to make the Greater Raleigh-area the "premiere visitor destination in the Southeast."

"One of the other reasons we need a strategic plan like this is to help identify what are the assets that are going to move the dial and separate us from our competition," said Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Dennis Edwards. "If we can increase and move that dial by another 4-million people, we think it's going to have a very significant and positive impact for their entire county."

Plans for a new MLS stadium and a potential expansion of the Convention Center fit into the 10-year-plan, leaders say. County leaders will also be gathering ideas from stakeholders and the public about other infrastructure ideas to boost tourism.

"We want to make sure the outcome of this is very much specific to Wake County and picks up on the unique characteristics," said Jones Lang LaSalle Executive Vice President Daniel Fenton, whose firm is helping with the 10-year-plan. "So just because someone else does it, doesn't mean it's right for us here."

Planners are expected to complete the destination strategic plan in about 13-months.

On Thursday, a job fair was also announced to help fill the hundreds of openings in Wake County's tourism industry.

"The tourism industry is as large as it's ever been here in Wake County," said Edwards. "But we need address the workforce shortage our restaurants and hotels are experiencing to sustain and foster the growth expected for the industry."

The Wake County Restaurant and Hotel Job Fair is scheduled for Wednesday, March 28, 2018 from 10am - 3pm at the Raleigh Convention Center.

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