Visits to county good for business

Published 10:46 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

When you sit back and think of the state’s tourism hotspots, Chilton County may not be at the top of your list. But, for thousands of visitors each and every year, the county is a place they want to be.

“Many people wouldn’t realize just how big tourism is here, how much it means to this county,” Chilton County Chamber of Commerce executive director Pennie Broussard said. “It’s important business for many of our business members.”

In a county where the economic engine is often driven by the agriculture and manufacturing sector, tourism-related businesses employ a reported 575 people, according to the state’s 2008 Travel and Economic Impact Report issued in mid-April.

“We have something for everyone; from locally-grown produce to the Water Course, the grist mill and Lake Mitchell,” Broussard said. “There are a lot of reasons, across the entire county, for people to make their visits to Chilton County.”

As for the state, the Alabama tourism and travel industry grew by 3 percent in 2008. The report shows more than 22 million people visited Alabama last year and spent nearly $9.6 billion. Those visitors also paid $702 million in state and local lodging and sales taxes.

Though local lodging tax figures were not available, local hotels brought in $133,198 in state lodging tax.

Even though that figure is down compared to last year, some local hotel operators are seeing good business and increases.

“We are booked nearly every weekend,” said Brandy Clackley, manager of GuestHouse Inn in Clanton. “The main reason recently is because of fishing tournaments. But we have guests for class reunions, revivals and weddings.”

Clackley pointed out the important part to visitors is the fact a large segment of the economy benefits from their stay.

“They shop here. They buy gas here. They buy ice here. They eat dinner here,” Clackley said.

Broussard said the value of one dollar spent by a visitor works its way through the local economy seven times. She also added the slower economy and seasonal fuel prices make Chilton County very attractive to in-state and nearby visitors.

“We have a lot of people come to our county on what I call ‘one-tank’ trips,” Broussard said. “People are looking for family-friendly places to go and visit, and we have a lot of those here in Chilton County.”

According to the report, the industries most impacted by tourism spending include lodging, restaurants, general retail, entertainment, public transportation and auto transportation. The largest single travel expenditure was on food and drinks, which accounted for 27 percent of all travel and tourism spending in the state. Public transportation was the next largest expenditure, accounting for 26 percent, followed by auto transportation at 15 percent, lodging at 13 percent. Entertainment and general retail each accounted for 10 percent of travel expenditures.