The News Herald reported in 2009 that tourism revenue in Burke County, N.C., was significantly down, which was attributed to the recession.
Last year, visitor spending topped out at $107 million, according to Ed Phillips, executive director of the Burke County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), an all-time high that beat out Catawba, Caldwell and McDowell counties. Several local leaders driving tourism to the county looked back at the past decade and shared their visions for the next one.
Phillips became the executive director of the Burke County TDA in 2010, giving him a decade to witness the transformation of local tourism.
“Burke County’s tourism assets, such as attractions and state parks, have seen a huge increase in visitation,” he said. “Marketing efforts by the Burke County TDA include media tours and outreach that creates interest in Burke County from travel writers and journalists. These writers have covered every tourism asset in Burke County multiple times in dozens of publications reaching millions of consumers in our target area. These articles have generated interest in Burke County and have contributed to the visitor increase.”
The growth of local tourism in the last 10 years has included the renovation of the Brown Mountain overlook, the rise of wineries and breweries and their accompanying festivals and events. and the opening of the Henry River Mill Village historic district near Hildebran after the filming of “The Hunger Games” movies there. Phillips said the village was a particular boon to the tourism scene.
“District 12 (a location in ‘The Hunger Games’), filmed at the Henry River Mill Village, was one of the few sets open to the public after the film was released in 2012,” he said. “Visitors came from all over the world to see the set. The Burke Visitor Center created a ‘Hunger Games’ exhibit and captured those visitors as they traveled through Burke County.”
He said agritourism has contributed to the success as well.
“Agritourism has also grown, with the expansion of Apple Hill Orchard and Perry’s Berry’s Blueberry Farm, to name a couple,” Phillips said. “Apple Hill Orchard built a new retail barn and hosts over 30,000 visitors a year. The State of Origin Craft Brew Festival in June was launched by Fonta Flora Brewery as a very unique festival attracting visitors from all over the country.”
He noted that vacation rentals in the county have doubled in the last three years.
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