First, the good news: Franklin County was among the top five counties in Virginia last year for year-over-year growth in tourism spending. Revenues from tourism in Franklin County were nearly $117 million in 2018, topping the spending from tourists here in 2017 by a whopping 7.1%.
This latest word on a record-breaking year here comes from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, which tracks tourists’ spending across the commonwealth. Corporation President and CEO Rita McClenny credited local leadership in communities statewide for the improvement in tourism numbers. “Our industry is made up of creative, hard-working, and dedicated professionals… [who] help to make Virginia the best place to live, work and visit, and are our most powerful ambassadors for Virginia is for Lovers.”
Here in Franklin County, much of the credit goes to David Rotenizer, director of tourism. He’s been a tireless advocate for the rich variety of tourist attractions and events that last year placed Franklin tied for fourth statewide among counties for revenue growth. Locally, Franklin County set the pace as well, with growth that easily eclipsed the 4.8% overall tourism revenue increase for the Roanoke region.
In a prepared statement, Rotenizer pointed to a variety of drivers for increased tourism, such as “an explosion of activities at Crazy Horse Marina, including national level fishing tournaments and other activities.” He also cited and the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail, Blue Ridge Folklife Festival and the Harvester Center, which is now drawing even international audiences,
Tourism initiatives not only yield millions of dollars in spending. They generate jobs and tax revenues. Local tourism-supported jobs increased 3% last year to 1,319, making the tourism sector the fourth highest in employment in the county, behind manufacturing, retail and health care, according to state tourism statistics. Moreover, tourism-related taxes here rose a healthy 5% to $3.36 million, according to Virginia Tourism Corporation figures.
Bear that $3.36 million figure in mind, because here’s the bad news: Franklin County’s tourism budget is down this fiscal year by $45,000.
For the 2019-20 period, $160,000 was budgeted, versus $210,000 for the fiscal year 2018-19. It is illogical for Franklin County to have cut its investment in tourism promotion, when there’s a clear impact on its return on that investment, not only on tax revenues — to the tune of a 5% increase last year — but also in added employment in the tourism sector. More investment in tourism also meets another need: Increased diversity in our county’s economy.
There are no solid figures locally on return on tourism investment, but just a few hours down the Blue Ridge Parkway sits Asheville, North Carolina, which estimates it gets a return of $22 for every dollar it spends on tourism promotion. If you assume the impact here would be half that amount, we’re still talking about $11 for every dollar the county spends on tourism promotion.
Here’s hoping our county’s leadership will reverse course on tourism funding. It’s an investment in jobs, economic diversity, future tax revenues and quality of life.