Cover Story: Destination - Charlotte, USA

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Tourism and hospitality employs 50,000 people in the Charlotte area.  That's more than the banking or health care industries.

Now, a federal plan just signed into law positions our city for a higher international profile.

If it works, it would mean more of those jobs, more visitors, and more money flowing into our local coffers.

"So, I'm glad you all are here.."

Something Genie Hufham might have to get used to saying more often.  She and a friend operate a small sightseeing business called "Charlotte Crown Guides."

"Wonderful on the inside."

Started up last year, they take visitors on walking tours of Center City Charlotte.

"We have seen a tremendous increase in the tourism.. because Charlotte is such a great place to come," says Hufham.

But out of the 18 million who will visit Charlotte this year only one million visitors are international travelers.

Seeking to boost those numbers Congress passed and the president just signed the Travel Promotion Act.  It sets up a national tourism board that will coordinate advertising and other efforts to encourage foreigners to visit the U.S.

It's a chance for mid-sized cities like Charlotte.. that can't afford huge overseas marketing campaigns like New York or Las Vegas.. to get their name out there too.

Mike Butts is the Executive Director for Visit Charlotte.

He says, "This will help us create jobs in the United States and locally."

Travel and hospitality employs 50,000 in the Charlotte area right now.  While visitor spending was nearly $4 billion last year.

Cities covet international travelers.  They spend on the average of $4,500 per visit while staying longer and spending more.

"We should see some things happen," says Butts.  "Nothing has to be built. It's really about promotion and making sure international travelers feel welcome to the United States and to the Charlotte area."

Don't see Charlotte as a destination?

Consider what's been added over the last couple of years:  NASCAR Hall of Fame.  US National Whitewater Center.  The Billy Graham Library.  All unique to the Queen City.

Not to mention these mainstays like Charlotte Motor Speedway, Discovery Place, Panthers, Bobcats, ImaginOn.

Says Hufham, "It's just a great place to be. it's just a great place to come. We've found that to be the case. More and more people are coming and they're staying longer which is of course what we'd all love for them to do."

The budget for the national tourism board will come from a $10 tax charged to international visitors.  It will be supplemented with corporate dollars.

Charlotte already has a number of direct flights to foreign cities.

Officials hope the increased advertising for the city could boost the number of international tourists here as much as ten percent.

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