Study: Heritage tourism contributes $2.4B to region
by Anna Oakes
Ten years after its designation by Congress and the president in November 2003, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area announced that heritage tourism contributes more than $2.4 billion to the regional economy.
Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Executive Director Angie Chandler released preliminary results from an economic impact study at the organization's annual meeting earlier this month. The $2.4 billion generated by heritage tourism in turn contributes over $182 million in tax revenue to local and state governments, and the economic activity supports 31,000 jobs, the study found.
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area commissioned the study earlier this year to assess the economic contribution of the region's heritage assets and the work of the 10-year-old organization. Consultant David Primm and Chris Cavanaugh of Magellan Strategies conducted the study.
"In addition to our program of work, the BRNHA recognizes that evaluation and measurement is an ongoing process," Chandler said in a statement. "In a time of shrinking public investment, it is important to assess and demonstrate the success of what we do."
The BRNHA was designated in recognition of the unique character, culture and natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills in Western North Carolina. Its mission is to protect, preserve, interpret and develop the unique natural, historical and cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations and to stimulate improved economic opportunity in the region.
The BRNHA includes 25 WNC counties, including Watauga, as well as the Cherokee Qualla Boundary.
The study quantifies the economic impact of the heritage tourism sector in WNC based on a sample of 18 sites and events. The numbers represent the total calculated impact, including direct, indirect and induced impacts.
"These sites were selected to reflect the geographic scope of the region, represent our five heritage legacies and have reliable annual visitor counts," the BRNHA statement said. "The BRNHA believes these are conservative findings because they include just a sample of the region's heritage assets."
In 10 years, the BRNHA has awarded 111 grants worth more than $1.8 million to projects such as HandMade in America, the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture, Junior Appalachian Musicians programs and more, according to its 2013 annual report.
The BRNHA operates a regional information desk at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville. Other programs include a Traditional Artist Directory and the Blue Ridge Music Trails program.