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Wilson County’s occupancy tax revenues have increased by about 20 percent in the last six months compared to the same time last year.
“The occupancy increase is due largely from our local events, sporting tournaments, Barton College, the Wilson Community College, weddings, reunions, construction, the hurricane, the small meetings market and our local manufacturers,” said Dennis Johnson, chairman of the Wilson County Tourism Development Authority board of directors.
The amount of hotel tax revenue collected from August 2018 through January of this year totaled to nearly $689,000 up by about $117,000 compared to roughly $572,000 during the same time period last year.
“The additional increase in occupancy is offering more marketing initiatives and product development for the Wilson community,” said Sandra Homes, Wilson Visitors Center executive director. “We can engage the visitor to stay longer while visiting. Our collaborative efforts are proving that Wilson is truly a more attractive destination and one that travelers want to visit.”
Homes said the travel trend index also shows that travel to and within North Carolina and across the United States has grown faster in 2018 than in 2017 including the leisure, domestic and tour business. She said Wilson is feeling that national trend, too.
“Tourism is recognized as playing a key role in our local economy,” Homes said. “The many assets we share and our collaborative efforts are proving to attract more visitation.”
Hotel occupancy along the Interstate 95 corridor at Exit 121 has also increased by about 7 percent during October, November and December 2018 compared to the same time period in 2017, officials said.
The Wilson County Tourism Development Authority hired Raleigh-based branding agency Clean in 2017 to debut a new logo, redesign the tourism website and create new illustrations with paid media, an advertising campaign and social media launch. The strategic and research-based campaign is focused on engaging sports and tournament attendees, attractions here, art seekers, I-95 pit-stoppers and city-seekers, officials said.
“Clean helped launch the kickoff celebration of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park opening in the fall of 2017,” Homes said. “The Whirligig Park has been a huge draw for visitors, tour buses and day-trippers. These visitors are seeing our many gardens and other attractions while visiting the Wilson area.”
That project is paid for by the occupancy tax through area hotels.
Wilson County also saw a 3.38 percent increase in tourism expenditures last year when compared to 2016, with visitor spending increasing to $119.6 million in 2017.
Officials say the occupancy tax increase from 3 percent to 6 percent in Wilson County that the General Assembly approved in 2016 has helped fund improvements that benefit residents and visitors, such as upgrades to the Gillette Athletic Complex. Two percent of the occupancy tax from hotels is designated to the city of Wilson’s Gillette Athletic Complex and the remainder goes toward marketing and promoting tourism here, as well as operational expenses.
Each year, the tourism board of directors also appropriates $150,000 of the occupancy tax revenues toward grants.
The board typically approves those grants in June and the grants are awarded in the next fiscal year, which starts in July.
“This is a large part of where the occupancy tax is used in benefiting local events, festivals and attractions in Wilson County,” Homes said.