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Charlotte-area hospitality industry had lots to be thankful for last year

We have been given the opportunity — and privilege — of connecting with you on a monthly basis here on the pages of The Mecklenburg Times.  Beginning with this first month of what I believe is to be a very promising year, we have so much to be thankful for in the hospitality industry and beyond.

Many in our community are sometimes surprised to learn about this industry we call “travel and tourism” or “hospitality.”  There are well over 50,000 people in our Charlotte area who are employed within this industry and there is almost $4 billion brought into our county due to tourism each year. And, furthermore, no property tax dollars are used to get us here (you know I needed to make that clear right away!).

Each month I would like to educate the public further, bring to light some of the misinterpretations of the day and, of course — as you would expect — brag a bit about all that we have to be thankful for in the Charlotte region.

To say the least, 2010 was a year of remarkable growth in Charlotte for tourism and the hospitality industry. The NASCAR Hall of Fame. The Levine Center for the Arts. The National Rifle Association bringing us our largest convention in our city’s history. Hotel occupancy rebound.

These few examples don’t even begin to recognize the incredible mark we as a community have made on this region for many years to come. As we rebound still from an economy that gave the entire world a tough blow to our wallets and our way of life, this stalwart city and region did not back down. Hotel occupancy has grown steadily over the past 11 months due to determination and good sales efforts by all of us over the past several years.

As a can-do community we don’t look back too often unless we can learn from all that brings greater dividends in the future.

Tireless workers and thankful fans alike celebrated our grand opening of the greatest sports hall and museum that will attract thousands to our city every month. Whether or not we have achieved the attendance estimates, we are proud that more than 140,000 ticket-holders have enjoyed the many activities and shared in the rich history of NASCAR through the NASCAR Hall of Fame since opening in May. The many events in the hall gave thousands more the opportunity to see for themselves why this newest addition to our center city is one that will bring the curious from far and wide.

The National Rifle Association knew they had quite the coup when they arranged to have their annual convention in Charlotte and to furthermore take advantage of our great new venue as well as the newest meeting space involving the hall and the convention center’s Crown Ballroom. We can attribute 72 bookings equating to $225 million to the hall and ballroom being not only new and interesting but also delivering beyond expectations.

We are thrilled that the Levine Center for the Arts has brought additional quality cultural experiences to South Tryon and the center city. How fortunate are we to have such forward-thinking leaders who have brought this to fruition and those who gave personally to ensure our children for generations to come will have an opportunity that few cities can claim?

Let’s not overlook the renewal of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association for 2012 to 2014 and the sold-out Atlantic Coast Conference championship football game (in our first try). We are a tried-and-true sports destination and will continue to welcome these and more organizers to our terrific city.

The airport will continue to be a major focus for us with new retail concessionaire that will have the Charlotte’s Got a Lot store in the terminal, enhanced taxi service and new international flights coming later in the year.

Over the next several weeks we will be putting a great deal of time into planning and strategizing for our new fiscal year of 2011, which begins July 1.  We will keep you updated, via this column, as to what areas we will be making changes to, improvements on or creating from scratch.  I hope this will also be a place where I can give you more insight into an organization and an industry that is hard at work every single day making Charlotte the best place to live, play and work.

I know you will see, as I do, that we have chosen the most amazing region to live in and visit anywhere in the country.

Happy New Year!

Molly Hedrick is senior director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

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