Tourism - The Purest Form of Economic Development

July 3, 2017


“Economic development,” in its purest form, is the process of improving the quality of life for citizens by increasing the local tax base and economic well-being of the community.

Of course, this is done by fostering and promoting investment in communities, which leads to additional jobs, which results in an increased population, which leads to the development of supporting retail, professional services, and activities.

The number one reason for travel is to visit friends and family. So the larger the population, the more tourism you’ll have. The second reason for travel is business. The more businesses you have, the more tourism you’ll have based on their visitors. And with the success of those two drivers, your activities and attractors will bring in leisure visitors, making our area a well-rounded destination as a place to live, work, and play! For clarification from a tourism standpoint, an attraction (like a museum or art gallery) is a venue that provides entertainment, fun and/or learning experience; while an attractor (such as a lake or theme park) is the main thing that draws visitors to an area.

In North Carolina, Tourism Development Authorities (TDA’s) are supported from revenue from the State Legislative mandated occupancy tax from hotels/motels/B&B’s as well as from individual home rentals, cabins at lakes and surprisingly, stationary tents at parks and campgrounds. R/V‘s, as well as pop-up tents, are not included in this tax. If you are renting property you own on a short term basis, the regular state/city/county sales taxes as well as the 6% occupancy tax needs to be paid.

You might wonder why we say tourism is the purest form of economic development. First, people come, spend money and go home. If we attract the right visitors, we don’t need more police, social services, or schools; the visitor impacts the infrastructure very little. Yet they support our retail shops, restaurants, hotels, and attractions in the community. If visitors like what they see and what they experience, they are more likely to tell their friends via social media or the old fashion way of “word of mouth!” You can say that is free marketing and a third party endorsement or positive review is pure gold.

Secondly, tourism can be called the front door to your non-tourism economic development. As you well know, any site investigator or potential investor as well as a commercial real estate firm will possibly arrive as a visitor/tourist. They listen to the local radio stations in the area; will read the local newspaper to get a flavor of the community. They want to see the quality of life and that will be the leading economic development driver. Tourism can provide marketing and visuals that promote the best that a community has to offer. The uptown/downtown will most likely be seen as the front porch and then the amenities such as activities for singles and families, nightlife, spiritual life and educational opportunities will help a site selector judge the area for the quality of life as a place to live, work and play – not just visit.

Finally, tourism can be an area’s best friend. Locals can choose to shop locally and provide revenue for the area’s retailers but visitors/tourists are known to spend more money while traveling which can provide a good profit margin. All the shopping, dining, entertainment doesn’t have to be in an uptown setting or in just one area of the community. Visitors like to search out where the locals eat and discover some of the local flavor rather than eating at chain restaurants they can eat at in any town.

They like to shop the unique shops, especially antique/consignment/flea markets to find a treasure to take home. Ladies are always searching for a new boutique to find an outfit or pair of shoes that they can’t find back home. If they have a good experience, then they go back home and talk about the area they have been visiting. Tourism is the purest form of economic development, but it is often not offered a seat at the planning table. Tourism is the second largest industry in North Carolina and one of the fastest growing and ever changing industries that can provide a quick return on your investment, while showcasing the best of what an area has to offer – possibly to a new investor.  

Margaret McMann serves as the Executive Director for the Person County Tourism Development Authority. On a visit to Person County you might encounter Margaret performing at the Kirby Theater, participating in various local events or sharing the latest goings on through her radio program on WKRX-FM, "Out and About". To learn more, contact Margaret at


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