North Carolina Eyes Increased Foreign Visitors

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March 11, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Tourism in Henderson County, N.C., could get a boost from the Travel Promotion Act recently signed into law by President Barack Obama, according to the Hendersonville, N.C., Times-News.

The legislation, approved with bipartisan congressional support in late February, creates a Corporation for Travel Promotion, which would work closely with the Department of Commerce, Homeland Security and individual states to develop a nationally coordinated, multi-channel marketing and communications program to attract more international visitors and explain travel security policies.

"This legislation will help us better compete with other countries that have been actively marketing themselves to travelers throughout the world," said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). Stepped-up international leisure travel to the U.S. will likely result in increased visits to campgrounds, RV parks and resorts.

While advocates of the legislation estimated the program could generate as many as 1.6 million new inbound visitors a year, ARVC said about 3% of those visitors, or 48,000 people, would likely stay in campgrounds and RV parks and resorts as they travel.

That's welcome news to John Eckhardt, owner of Creekside Mountain Cabins in Bat Cave. The facility features campground sites for tent camping and 25 cabins, including two new cabins that will be completed by early April, he said.

"If it is going to help, that will be fine, but time will tell whether we will get any additional benefit from it," Eckhardt said. "The biggest problem I see with it is whether they will actually follow through with using the money to help local businesses."

It will still be a few weeks before bookings begin in earnest at Creekside, he said, but improvements are being made to attract business.

"In addition to adding the new cabins, we're also putting televisions in the cabins to appeal to the new clientele who are stepping down from the luxury resorts, but they still want television, so we are accommodating that need," Eckhardt said. "Most of it is repeat business; we're not getting much new business right now. Hopefully, this will help bring in new business."

Profaizer said 10% of the U.S. population, or 30 million people, are either camping or RVing as they travel around the country. But a bad reputation for being unwelcoming to foreigners has dampened international tourism to the U.S. in recent years, she said.

"We haven't had any money to promote international travel and with tightened security, some people feel the increased regulations and things means that we're really not that friendly a country — that's been the country's reputation for the last several years," Profaizer said. "We're trying to make a comeback."

The natural beauty of Western North Carolina with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah National Forest and the Appalachian Trail coupled with the state of European currencies right now mean travel to Henderson County is a great deal for foreigners, said Melody Heltman, executive director of Henderson County Travel and Tourism.

"We have a really good international tourism market here and a lot of it flows up from Greenville (S.C.) because there are so many European companies in Greenville," she said. "Their money spends better when our dollars hurt.

"We're (Henderson County) perfect for that (international tourism) with people coming over here to enjoy the beautiful outdoor venues that we have."

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