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Wednesday, 30 June 2010 15:12

WNC tourism trends

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Motorcyclists

Maggie Valley business owners have seen an uptick in motorcycle enthusiasts with the opening of the Wheels through Time Museum.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House, says many more motorcyclists are rushing to the Smokies to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Dragon and other twisty roads.

More motorcycle rallies in Haywood have attracted bikers, but they’re not the kind of bikers most would expect.

O’Keefe said while convertibles were the go-to vehicle for the wealthy in the past, it’s now motorcycles that are the status symbols.

“We see doctors, lawyers, more upper-class people riding expensive bikes,” said David Huskins, director of Smoky Mountain Host, a regional tourism organization.

Moreover, motorcycles aren’t only for males. More females are riding their own bikes rather than taking a backseat.

Visitors who stay

With beautiful environs situated relatively close to major metropolitan areas, WNC has long attracted second- and third-homeowners from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and other Southeastern states.

Many of these part-time residents visit before buying. The second-home market especially spiked in the mid-1980s and continued to grow — until the recession stopped it in its tracks.

“This is the first recession that actually hit the luxury market,” said David Huskins, director of Smoky Mountain Host, a regional tourism organization. “Previously, they’ve been immune to that.”

Karen Wilmot, Swain County Chamber of Commerce director, testified to a surge of second-home buyers there in the past five years. When folks in Atlanta realize they can get to WNC in three hours, the area shoots up in popularity.

But the Swain Chamber doesn’t deliberately advertise the area as an ideal place for a second residence.

“We don’t really push it as come and live. We push it as come and stay,” said Wilmot.

Word of mouth is the best marketing tool by far, according to Wilmot.

Foreigners

The Smokies have witnessed a noticeable rise in foreign visitors in the last decade. Favorable currency rates and concentrated international marketing have brought more Germans and Brits to the region than ever before.

Many international tourists are flying into Washington, D.C., picking up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, getting off in Cherokee, then flying back out from Atlanta.

More Scandinavian and Swedish tourists are beginning to join their German, English, Irish and Scottish counterparts in the Smokies.

Fishing

After Maggie Valley and Waynesville were designated Mountain Heritage Trout Waters cities two years ago, more families are coming to the area to take kids fishing. The designation means anyone can pick up a three-day fishing license for just $5 and check out equipment at discounted prices.

Jackson County has also seen a rise in visitors after instituting a fly-fishing trail and ap two years ago. Visitors are coming from as far away as Texas and Montana for the first time.

Cherokee has also become a fly-fishing Mecca after opening catch-and-release sections on Raven Fork and the Oconaluftee River stocked with trophy trout.

Fido-friendly

Jackson County is seeing more tourists traveling with pets – so many that it has added a pet icon to its visitor guides to let tourists know which accommodations allow pets.

Julie Spiro, director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said it may seem like a minor trend, but traveling with pets is becoming more important than ever to consumers.

Over in Macon County, the new Smoky Mountain Performing Arts Center in Franklin has led to a rise in traveling concert-goers. Visitors from outside WNC are now heading to Franklin to see their favorite musicians perform.

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