LAURINBURG – Scotland saw an increase in the money spent by visitors last year, according to Visit North Carolina, which tracks tourism dollars for the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
In 2016, Scotland County saw $43.67 million in revenue spent by tourists. That number is up 3.4 percent from $42.22 million in 2015.
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The report places Scotland 10th out of the 16 counties in the region in tourism revenue, coming just under Richmond County at $47.81 million and well over Hoke at $11.42 million and Anson at $16.63 million.
The increase can be attributed to a number of factors, according to Corey Hughes, director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Association.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Hughes said. “Festivals, people that come from elsewhere to go to Lowes or wherever, people passing through – that’s why 74 is so important,” Hughes said. “And a lot of people come to the college for athletic events.”
Hughes said the tourism numbers are good for the local economy. Tourism in the county created more than 380 jobs in 2016. That generated a $7.36 million in payroll in the county.
Those jobs range from housekeeping in area hotels and restaurant servers to retail owners. Statewide, the tourism and travel industry directly employs around 219,000 North Carolinians.
Statewide, visitors spent a record $22.9 billion statewide in 2016, an increase of 4.4 percent from the previous year.
Locally, tourism spending brought in more than $3,1 million in state and local taxes for products and services paid for in Scotland County, including $760,000 in local taxes.
That boost also creates a $89.74 tax break for local tax payers. This is a greater savings than Richmond, Randolph, Robeson, Columbus, and Anson counties, according to Hughes.
“What that means is folks coming into the county to buy products and services and going to restaurants pay taxes that go to the county,” Hughes said. “If tourism dollars were paid [elsewhere], if tourist didn’t come to the county each resident would have to make up an additional $89.74 in taxes per person; a family of four is getting a $360 tax break from tourism.”
With the fall sports seasons beginning and fall festivals, coming up the county is looking to add to those numbers for 2017.
“With festival month, we look to bring in upwards of 15,000 people,” Hughes said. “Fall is a strong time for us.”
The county hosts the following festivals each year.
The Kumba Festival, a celebration of African American heritage featuring food, crafts, educational exhibits and storytelling in the oral traditions of African culture, kicks off local festival season at Market Park on Sept.27.
Next, the Scotland County Highland Games, which showcases Scottish traditions from sporting events to food and dance, will take place on Oct. 7 at the John Blue Home and Heritage Village.
The following week the John Blue Cotton Festival celebrates the life of inventor John Blue and the rich farming traditions of the region. The festival is held at the John Blue Home and Heritage Village from Oct. 14 to 15.
The final festival in the county’s line up is The Storytelling Festival of North Carolina showcasing music and storytelling traditions of the Carolinas. The event is held in downtown Laurinburg from Oct. 20 to 22.
Another tourism generator for the county is sports, according to Hughes. Part of that comes from sporting events at St. Andrews University. Hughes and others are hopeful that the college’s new football team will add to those numbers.
“Saint Andrews has five home games this year,” Hughes said. “But the university is a huge provider of travel and tourism for us from prospective students and parents visiting to alumni, to traveling professors.”
The county also hosts several youth sports tournaments at the James L. Morgan Recreation Complex, according to Brian Graham director of Scotland County Parks and Recreation.
“We host a number of weekend tournaments throughout the year anywhere from five to 15 and those bring in tourism,” Graham said.
From July 13 to 18, the complex will host the Dixie Softball State Tournament a girls’ fast-pitch softball league competition.
Hughes is proud of the county’s tourism growth.
“We’re never going to have tourism expenditures like Moore and Cumberland Counties, but we can continue to grow and that shows us we can do some things pretty well,” Hughes said. “We [Tourism Development Association] want to put heads in bed, but more than anything we want to provide economic value to the county.”
Funding for the Tourism Development Association is provided from a hospitality tax on hotel rooms. The TDA does not receive any city, county or state taxes.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169