Our view: Tourism industry gets high marks on a report card that rings loud

Our view: Tourism industry gets high marks on a report card that rings loud

Hearing the word tourism may conjure up thoughts of fun and adventure for many of us, but for those who study local economic figures, it’s all about numbers.

And the numbers are good.

That’s why the tourism industry in the Opelika-Auburn area deserves the widespread attention it gets in exploring future growth and planning, which could include master plans, infrastructure development and even travel routes, as the boon shows no signs of backing off.

Consider some of those numbers:

–Visitors spent $438 million in area hotels, restaurants and retail stores during the last year alone, according to data and best estimates.

–The related businesses serving those visitors employed more than 6,000 people.

–Tourism spending in the Auburn-Opelika area increased by 91 percent over the past 10 years.

–Such spending increased by 12 percent in just the past year.

Top-dollar estimates? Maybe, but throwing the dart at such heights and coming up short still most likely equals hefty figures in the end.

Another promising indicator is the growing diversity of attractions.

Auburn football obviously draws an influx of spenders by the tens of thousands on home game days. Another major sporting event drawing national exposure is the successful Barbasol PGA tournament and the fantastic courses hosting it at Opelika’s portion of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which includes the Grand National courses.

However, the growing concept of creating “cultural gateways” into both Auburn and Opelika by putting more attention on budding arts venues is another promising dividend in the local tourism portfolio.

Additionally, both cities have expressed a good understanding of the value in providing top-notch recreational opportunities, such as Opelika’s Sportsplex and Auburn’s recent commitment to a new land purchase for park development; and the state park system’s investment in draws such as mountain bike trails.

Another often overlooked spinoff from the tourism industry is that sometimes, a tourist with much to offer decides to stay, becoming a contributing member to the local community. One example of how that might pay dividends both for the new resident and the local economy: retirement communities.

Lee County is a good place to live and work, and as more and more people learn, it’s a great place to visit. Tourism dollars are considered “clean money” in part because they boost existing businesses.

It’s an industry that continues to grow in the Auburn-Opelika area, and one that deserves attention on what could lie ahead.

The numbers are looking good.