Salisbury. James Meacham, CEO of Rowan County Tourism, says Rowan’s tourism figures are still strong, although there have been changes, and the current economy means there could be more changes ahead.
Speaking to the Salisbury Rotary Club on Tuesday, Meacham said he last spoke to the group 15 years ago, in the same June when he was new to the job and the community.
At that time, Rowan County Commissioners created a “Branding Task Force”. Rowan County Tourism has come a long way since then, above all in this marketing plan for a brand that is now considered one of the best examples in the country. Part of this plan was to make sure all connected communities are on the same page as each other.
Meacham said that when COVID broke out in 2020, it became clearer than ever how interconnected the communities in the county were because messaging was so much easier than expected.
“We were already on the same page, which made messaging a lot more efficient,” he said. “Now we’re still evolving and moving into the storytelling phase where we’re talking about what makes Rowan County original.”
In 2019, Meacham said the county had a record year in terms of revenue from a local occupancy tax that funds the tourism organization. Then came 2020 and COVID, and there were “record losses” that continued into the first half of 2021. However, things picked up during the year, and the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022 returned to record levels. But unlike 2019, which was “the most stable year,” the current economy is much more unpredictable, and the source of dollars has begun to change.
As COVID began to ease at the end of 2021 and people were able to travel again, he said, leisure travel spiked.
“People were just traveling to get out after such a long lockdown,” he said. “Now tourist travel is down to 2019 levels, which is still high, but group travel to destinations or events is on the rise, as is business travel.”
“A convergence of economic factors that are beyond local control — inflation and gas prices — could eventually have an impact,” he said. “We follow the numbers weekly. There may not be much we can do to avoid it, but we will know if it happens and we will be as prepared as possible.”