08/14/08 — I-795 adds to Wayne's tourism numbers, state officials report

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I-795 adds to Wayne's tourism numbers, state officials report

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 14, 2008 1:47 PM

Despite the recent high gas prices, uncertainty at the pump didn’t stop people from traveling to and through Wayne County in 2007.

In fact, according to the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, travel generated more than $113 million in the county last year — a 4 percent increase over 2006 — ranking Wayne 33rd for travel and tourism out of all 100 counties in the state.

News-Argus/Greg Sousa

Motorists head south on I-795 on the outskirts of Goldsboro early today. Betsy Rosemann, director of Goldsboro-Wayne County Travel and Tourism, said the four-lane highway's recent designation as an interstate-quality road has helped boost tourism in the county. The improved rating has led more travel agents to recommend the route, she said, putting more people in local hotels.

Visitors to the area also helped out county residents by generating $8.4 million in state and local tax revenues, the division reported.

“Tax revenues, generated by visitors to Wayne County, actually saved each county resident $74.12 by generating tax dollars that can be used for education, water and other necessities,” said Betsy Rosemann, director of Goldsboro-Wayne County Travel and Tourism. “If these tax revenues were not generated by visitors, the burden would be placed upon local taxpayers.”

Mrs. Rosemann said she believes one of the big boosts to the local travel and tourism industry increase — including $15.95 million in payroll and about 1,000 jobs — is Interstate 795.

“I-795 brought in a tremendous amount of traffic,” she said, explaining that many travel agencies have begun recommending the new road as a passage to the state’s coast and even places like Myrtle Beach.

And, with more traffic comes more people who need food and gas, and ultimately some of those will likely stop off in Goldsboro or other parts of the county, she said.

Also helping draw people into Wayne County is Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, whether for tourism or for work.

“The base is growing,” Mrs. Rosemann said. “People don’t see all the construction that’s been going on, but it’s happening. And all of those people working on the projects need a place to stay when they are working, and they need to eat.”

New base personnel also add to the increase.

“When people are in the process of relocating, they need a place to stay while they are doing that. And when the base hotel fills up, they overflow into the other hotels in Goldsboro,” Mrs. Rosemann said.

Although the city lost the Days Inn after a windstorm stopped operation last August, hotel occupancy hasn’t decreased. Visitors have just moved to fill the other hotels in the area.

“We lost a hotel, but what it did was it streamlined the business,” she said. “We’ve still got the business.”

Plus, Wayne County is a central location for other areas, a positive point for business travelers.

“We saw business travelers coming in on Monday and leaving on Wednesday after 9/11, but now, they are starting to travel again on Sundays. They will come in on a Sunday evening and stay for two or three nights,” she added. “We are a hub for the surrounding five counties. Some of the business travelers come and stay in Goldsboro and then hit multiple businesses in those five counties.”

Swim meets and weddings also raise tourism amounts, but family reunions and religious conferences add more to the totals than they did before.

“Reunions are being turned into vacations with gas prices being so high,” Mrs. Rosemann said. “Families are coming in for three to five nights when they were only coming in for a weekend before.”

And with the Southern District Convocation of the United Holy Church of America headquarters located in the county, there has been an increase in church conferences.

Travel expenditures — the amount visitors spend — in Wayne County have typically had steady growth since 1993, Ms. Rosemann said, and since the creation of the Goldsboro tourism office in June 2000, expenditures have increased $21.4 million.

She also said that the Paramount Theater should help further increase travel and tourism numbers in time, but that it is too early in its operation to gauge how much of an effect it will have on city and county efforts.