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County Tourism: Full Speed Ahead

May 01, 2016 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

County Tourism: Full Speed Ahead

On the second Tuesday of every other month, the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (CVB) Partnership Team conducts a Partners Meeting.

Partners are those in Cabarrus County whose products or services cater to visitors to our area. The CVB Partnership Team provides useful data and information about what business and leisure visitors are looking for while here, as well as what draws them here.

In March, Berkeley Young of Young Strategies Inc. spoke at the Partners Meeting entitled The State of Tourism, at the City Club at Gibson Mill. Young Strategies is a Charlotte-based firm that, in part, researches travel trends, educating and aiding travel and tourism businesses with how best to draw in and cater to destination travelers.

As the demand for leisure travel destinations increases – 37.8 percent of residents in the Southeast plan to travel more in 2016 – so does the demand for hotel accommodations, eateries, activities, etc.

“The greater Charlotte area is the hub of a 12-county metropolitan area with a 2014 population of 2.4 million residents,” according to Young. In that same year, Cabarrus County ranked 12th in the state (Mecklenburg: No. 1) in terms of visitor spending – at more than $400 million that fiscal year. Those visitors are offered 2,788 hotel rooms countywide with the bulk, not surprisingly, located at the I-85 exits 49 and 58/60 corridors. In fact, 198 new rooms have been added to these specific sectors since 2010.

Even more rooms are being added this year, about 125 of them with the construction of UpTown Suites off Weddington Road Extension, near Concord Mills. This $7- to $10-million hotel, which broke ground in February, is part of the InTown Suites brand and the first of its kind anywhere. It will have a more upscale vibe and hopes to cater to visitors staying here longer, whether that be for business, relocation or vacation. Amenities will include full-sized kitchens and appliances, big-screen televisions and comfy furniture. Additionally, existing InTown Suites will get a facelift.

Occupancy in our hotels has steadily increased since 2010 – with the exception of a slight dip in 2013 – to 65.5 percent in 2015, matching the national average. And that’s above the state’s average of about 62.5 percent.

The months with the highest occupancy rates are typical for destination travel: the summer months (May through July) and October when they reach nearly 70 percent. The average daily rate (ADR) for a room in Cabarrus County was $100.28 in 2015, up from $85.59 in 2010. This equated to annual lodging revenue of $55.7 million last year.

So, who travels to Cabarrus County and takes advantage of its accommodations? According to Young, individual business travelers make up the bulk while those here for conferences, sports tournaments, NASCAR, then group tours round out the field. Those here for NASACAR-related events and those visiting the area in general account for about 20 percent of all visitors.

Those in the county for a racing-related trip stay an average of 4.12 nights; they spend more than $1,399 on an overnight trip and $533 for a racing daytrip.

Residents of Cabarrus County realize the positive impact NASCAR has on the economy. So how, in 2016, do businesses catering to destination travelers lure them in? Young provides eight important trends gleaned from Skift Magazine’s Megatrends Defining Travel in 2016:

1. Food is now the leading hook for travel;

2. Direct booking wars are in full bloom;

3. The rise of fast casual design in travel;

4. Video is the new language of brand communication;

5. Build your own passenger experience is the future of flying;

6. Messaging is the new language of the globe; are travel brands listening;

7. Partnership time for hospitality in the on-demand economy;

8. Smart travel agents adopt the concierge mindset.”

Young singled out messaging, social media and the Internet from this list, predicting that there will be some 4 billion Internet users by 2018,         

3.6 billion messaging users and 2.4 billion social media users. And travelers are already utilizing all these methods in planning their trips.

The most demanding are the Millennials – the generation born between 1981 and 1994. They make up the largest group of leisure travelers, are digitally savvy and have high expectations. Case in point: According to Young, in the past 12 months 59.4 percent of those planning to travel have used user-generated content (UGC). This is anything from blogs, to videos, to audio advertisements. Within the social media arena, mobile phones are used to access travel information (49.4 percent), as well as a designated marketing organization (DMO) website (36.4 percent) and Facebook (30.8 percent).

When using offline methods to plan a trip, individuals rely most on the opinions of friends and family (46.2 percent), a travel or lifestyle magazine (18.4 percent) and direct mail pieces (15.6 percent).

In Young’s leisure visitor profile, respondents chose activities that would appeal to them while visiting a particular area. The top five are outdoor/drive-in movie theatres (39.1 percent); country/western concerts (30.8 percent); contemporary/pop/rock concerts (27.3 percent); more nighttime entertainment (25.3 percent); and upscale, finer dining (17.8 percent).

The rest of the responses, in order of most requested, were an arts and antique district; unique boutique shopping; live theatre series; an upscale, unique hotel in downtown Concord; an upscale RV park resort; classical concerts; and a horse racing event center.

Those in Cabarrus County for a race-related visit ranked their satisfaction with the experience highest – more than 4 out of 5 – in comparison to leisure or business/conference/marketing visits (although those figures were close behind). This included the event itself; quality in, and value paid for, lodging; quality of dining; and their overall experience in Cabarrus County.

Broken down even more – into categories like variety of shopping and merchandise, ease of finding visitor information, and level of service and employee training – ease of traffic ranked lowest: about 3.75 out of 5. (Stay tuned for the August issue of Cabarrus Magazine: Growing Pains.)

Young is very complimentary of Cabarrus County, in particular, the CVB. “The single most effective strategy to stretch your marketing budget is to tailgate on the methods of the Cabarrus County CVB and VisitNC,” he says, adding that this county is doing it right, and sets the bar high when he finds himself giving the same kinds of presentations elsewhere in North Carolina…tooting our horn for us.

As Cabarrus County grows and becomes more of its own travel destination, Young urges area business to work in tandem to make it an even more exciting and memorable place to visit. He uses a metaphor from NASCAR. “Drafting: Rear car fills the low-pressure area and reduces drag on the front car. Result: Cars work together to minimize resistance. Speed increases.”

Article by: Kimberly Cassell with Berkley Young

Photos/Renderings Courtesy: Cabarrus CVB

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