SALISBURY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A new report presented to Salisbury’s City Council on Tuesday reveals Rowan County has set new records in its tourism industry.

According to Rowan County Tourism, the period between Jan. 2022 and June 2023 was the strongest 18 months on record for county tourism. Revenue from overnight stays was 27 percent higher than it was in pre-pandemic 2019, which is when the previous record was set.

“There was a really strong desire for people to get back out traveling again, and we really saw the benefits of that,” said Rowan County Tourism CEO James Meacham.

According to the report, hotel occupancy rates averaged 70 percent through 2022, and overall visitor spending in that year grew 11.7 percent from 2021. Visitors spent about $209 million in 2022 and supported over 1,400 jobs.

Meacham says the key to setting their new record has been to capitalize on the county’s strengths, which lie in its charm and unique experiences like the Cheerwine Festival, Polar Express, and Transportation Museum.

He described each experience as a different chapter in the county’s book.

“Tourism a lot is telling your story. And how do we tell our story to visitors today and then tomorrow?” said Meacham.

The county’s strategy for continued growth is something most tourism departments don’t do: offering financial incentives when visitors book overnight stays.

“A good example would be, if you book a hotel room, we’ll give you two free tickets to Polar Express or two free tickets to a Day Out with Thomas,” said Meacham.

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One area that hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels is business travel due to the rapid increase in remote work and virtual meetings.