Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County saw a combined 13.4 percent growth in occupancy tax revenues in 2019 with every month an improvement from 2018 numbers, according to figures released by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority on Feb. 18.
The $4.903 million in occupancy tax in 2019 is up from $4.324 million in 2018.
“The combined 13.4 percent growth in occupancy tax revenue for 2019 means that we have a healthy and growing tourism economy in Watauga County,” said Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga County and Boone TDA. “The combined number covers all types of lodging that collects the occupancy tax, including chain hotels, independent hotels, bed and breakfasts and short-term cabin, condo and home rentals.”
Occupancy tax is collected by lodging options, as imposed by the governing municipality or county, and funds the TDA and its operations.
“We are legislatively mandated that at least two-thirds of the occupancy tax revenue has to be spent on marketing and promoting tourism to Boone and Watauga County,” Tilley said. “We are allowed to use up to the remaining one-third in occupancy tax funds on other tourism-related expenditures including infrastructure and new product development.”
Watauga County numbers, which include all the areas outside of towns, grew the most in 2019, going up 17 percent from 2018, from $1.75 million to $2.048 million. The only negative month in Watauga County was March 2019, which saw a decrease of $14.55, less than 1 percent, from March 2018.
“Year-round tourism is strong in Watauga County,” Tilley said. “We are fortunate to have three area ski resorts and Hawksnest snow tubing within 25 miles of downtown Boone. Those winter resorts allow us to market and attract visitors and their spending in all four seasons. People tend to take more shorter getaways rather than one long annual vacation. The growth of two of our key feeder markets – Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham – means we are able to deliver our advertising to potential new visitors as well as return visitors.”
Nine of the 12 months for Watauga County were double-digit percentage increases from the corresponding months in 2018, with December 2019 up 38.63 percent.
“While we didn’t have a lot of natural snow, temperatures were generally good for snow making,” Tilley said. “December was good for the area ski resorts. We were also fortunate to host the Sun Belt Conference Football Championship in Boone again this year in early December. The impact of a nationally televised football game on ESPN is tremendous exposure for Boone and the Boone area.”
Boone saw an 11.91 percent growth in 2019 compared to 2018, with every month seeing positive growth. The last seven months of 2019 all had double-digit percentage growth over the same months in 2018. The biggest was September 2019 with 29.12 percent growth, partially due to September 2018 having a canceled Appalachian State University home football game.
Blowing Rock’s growth in 2019 was 9.56 percent, up to $1.15 million from $10.5 million in 2018. Blowing Rock had two negative months in 2019 compared to 2018, March and June, while five months saw double-digit percentage growth in 2019. The biggest growth month for Blowing Rock was September 2019, which saw 25.99 percent growth over September 2018.
“I also think the popularity of Tweetsie Christmas has helped increase lodging and tourism revenues during December,” Tilley said. “We saw a lot of website traffic to the Tweetsie Christmas information on ExploreBoone.com.”
The occupancy tax totals for Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County has more than doubled in the last decade, according to previously released information, with overall increases in all of those years, with the exception of Blowing Rock in 2017, due to Chetola Resort’s 100-plus condominiums being closed to guests the first few months of that year.
“People are realizing how important it is to take vacation time, even if it’s just for a short getaway,” Tilley said. “I also think that the numbers tell us that we have a strong tourism product in Boone and the High Country. People generally have a very positive experience when they visit our area.”