The Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority (BRTDA) has adopted and begun implementing its budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024. Anticipating a decline in occupancy tax revenues, the TDA staff and board set the current budget at $ 1,518,636 – a 15% reduction from the previous year’s budget. With a continued reduction in call-to-action advertising, the TDA is dedicating a notable portion of promotional spending to research that will bring clarity to future promotions planning. Infrastructure dollars will be directed to several projects, including updated wayfinding signage throughout Blowing Rock and expanded restrooms in Memorial Park.
The explosive rate of growth in leisure travel directly following the pandemic was not a long-term trend, and travel industry experts anticipated a shift when travel became safer. Currently, the domestic travel industry is seeing a continued “cooling-off” that began late last year. Indeed, Blowing Rock occupancy tax collections for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 were about 5% below the previous year. Much of this decline can be attributed to changes in demand as airline options and international travel began to return to normal; many regional visitors resumed more varied travel habits as soon as they became available. A continued decline is expected this year as these travel patterns continue to normalize and local pricing responds to reduced demand. The BRTDA does not see these declines in comparative revenue and visitation as a cause for alarm.
“Many businesses in Blowing Rock will likely tell you it was a challenge to keep up with the record demand of late 2020 through 2021,” says Tracy Brown, Executive Director of the BRTDA. “And our residents were certainly feeling the impacts of overwhelming visitation levels. This slow-down is really a return to more normal, sustainable levels of business, which is something we welcome.”
Even with changes in demand, and other potentially-affecting factors like inflation and gas prices, travel forecasters have predicted strong overall domestic leisure travel in 2023 and 2024. And Blowing Rock continues to garner accolades that confirm the little town remains a favorite vacation spot. Earlier this year, Blowing Rock was voted Best Small Town in NC by readers of Southern Living Magazine, and Best Walkable Town and Best Main-Street Local Shopping by readers of Blue Ridge Country Magazine. It’s also worth noting that while occupancy tax revenues are expected to be less than last year, current budgeted revenues are still about 40% higher than 2018-2019 revenues, reflecting overall growth.
The BRTDA is always working to gather industry information and research to better understand the Blowing Rock visitor and market. With current shifts in travel patterns- plus new technology and partnerships available- staff felt that 2023-2024 was an ideal time for more focused research. Earlier this month, the BRTDA received results from a 2023 Brand and Image Position survey conducted by SMARInsights. Participation in this survey was made possible through a partnership with Visit North Carolina. During the current fiscal year, the TDA is contracting with data collection companies AirDNA and Arrivalist.
“These firms will help the TDA learn a great deal about the High Country visitor: how long they stay, where they are from, and where they spend their time while visiting,” says Brown. This useful information will be available regularly throughout the year and the BRTDA plans to share with its constituents, board, and Town Council.
General promotions activity is planned in 2023-2024, with advertising that continues an established focus on sustainable messaging in connection with Outdoor NC and Leave No Trace principles. For the last few years, the BRTDA has focused on educational and stewardship messaging during busy summer and fall seasons. Traditional call-to-action marketing, designed to increase visitation, is generally limited to “shoulder seasons” when regular visitation declines. New educational programming for students at Appalachian State University will continue this year, with the intent to enhance communication between the university and local businesses for student employment.
Phase I of the new wayfinding signage, funded entirely by the BRTDA, will be implemented in the current fiscal year. These attractive signs will direct visitors and residents to points of interest and help reduce sign clutter in some key areas. The custom design, construction, and installation will be directed by Destination by Design of Boone. The BRTDA will also continue to provide funding support for Town events like the 4th of July Festival, Halloween Festival, and Christmas in the Park. Infrastructure dollars from the BRTDA go to landscape improvements and beautification each year, which this year includes the purchase of hundreds of blooming plants, installation of Christmas lights, and restroom cleaning services. A portion of this year’s infrastructure budget will also build additional restrooms in Memorial Park, doubling the current capacity. Construction is currently underway.
About the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority:
The BRTDA operates as the official Destination Marketing Organization for the Town of Blowing Rock, and exists to increase and enhance Blowing Rock’s visitor economy. Utilizing the 6% occupancy tax levied on short-term lodging stays in the Town of Blowing Rock, the TDA funds the promotion of tourism in Blowing Rock and provides a funding base for improvement and maintenance of the Town’s tourism-related infrastructure.