Your View: Guest Column - We can make High Point year-round destination
BY TIMOTHY C. MABE
Of all the cities in North Carolina, High Point should have the deepest appreciation for the value of tourism. Twice each year, 70,000 to 75,000 visitors from around the globe converge on the Home Furnishings Capital of the World to view and purchase the newest trends in home furnishings. This two-week anomaly we are blessed to host is known as the High Point Market, a leading economic contributor to our city and state.
Imagine what High Point would be like without “Market” fueling our local economy. Conversely, imagine if we could extend this level of tourism activity to every week of the year, resulting in a windfall to our local economy as well as enticing developers to build new restaurants, retail centers, and other desired amenities targeted by Ignite High Point and the City Project. The good news is that this vibrant transformation is within reach.
Let’s look at how tourism works. The economic impact is much more than merely the dollars a visitor spends on lodging, attractions, food, services and products. Tourism-related businesses buy goods and services to meet the needs of visitors, all directly impacting you and me in the form of sales taxes and wages. It supports businesses that we all enjoy that would not otherwise be here. It creates economic diversification, an insurance policy against hard times or declines in traditional industry – in our case tobacco, textiles and furniture manufacturing. It shifts the tax burden from property owners to consumer sales taxes. Sustainable tourism can ensure that our environment, heritage and inherent character are preserved. It can stimulate new and improved transportation systems, the opportunity to benefit from new ideas and cultures, and the possibility of new residents, as has happened with many furniture market guests.
Now, let’s look at the tremendous opportunity before us. Some may ask if it is possible to bring this many visitors to High Point as a destination. The answer is … we used to, in a pretty big way. A friend at Furnitureland South, the world’s largest furniture store, gave me a real “aha moment.” Visitors come from all points on earth to buy furnishings there and they are doing phenomenal business! Until about 10 years ago, the city had over a dozen prominent stores such as Rose, Atrium, Blacks, Wood-Armfield, Young’s, Boyles, Hinkle Harris, and many more which annually generated over $700 million in gross retail sales. Today that figure has dropped to about $150 million — a loss of $550 million in direct visitor expenditures.
The mission of the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau is clear. We simply must return to year-round traffic to support businesses on Main Street, High Point University, the Palladium area, and the High Point Market. We must get behind the exciting initiatives produced by Ignite High Point, the City Project, the High Point Partners, HPCVB, Southwest Renewal Project, SoSi, Washington Street area, Uptowne, and other groups. By harnessing this synergy behind a single unifying vision and strategy, we will revitalize High Point, draw developers to build our dreams, and attract a stream of new visitors. We’ll make High Point a better choice for corporate headquarters, retain HPU graduates and other young professionals, and significantly improve our quality of life.
This week, during National Tourism Week, we thank our local hospitality workers, businesses, and especially our visitors. The staff at HPCVB will deliver Krispy Kreme donuts to our tourism partners and we’ll celebrate the week with refreshments in the HPCVB Visitors Center Lobby at 300 South Main Street. One lucky visitor will win a prize bag filled with High Point souvenirs. Join us as we thoughtfully consider how to leverage our location, our brand, and our unique ability to host major events. Fuel the momentum. Ignite High Point.
Timothy C. Mabe is president and CEO of the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau.