Aug. 12--Attracting more visitors to spend the night enabled Forsyth County to set a second consecutive record for annual spending by tourists at $711.8 million in 2012.

The 3.4 increase was on top of a 10.5 percent increase in 2011 and 9.2 percent increase in 2010, the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development announced Monday. Forsyth County did not benefit in 2012 from the biennial National Black Theatre Festival, which had an estimated 25 percent increase in attendance at this month's event.

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Forsyth was ranked sixth for domestic tourism spending for the third consecutive year.

Watauga County had the largest percentage increase -- at 6.7 percent to almost $212 million -- for the 14-county area of the Triad and Northwest North Carolina.

The annual study is commissioned by the division and conducted by the U.S. Travel Association. The study uses sales and tax revenue data, as well as employment figures, to determine the overall impact of visitor spending.

Besides tourist attractions, traveler spending also is determined through recreation facility user fees; admissions at amusement parks and attractions; attendance at nightclubs, movies, sports events and other forms of entertainment; and recreation. The report doesn't provide a category breakdown by county of how the money was spent.

Tourism generated $117.4 million in payroll (up $3.4 million) for about 6,050 industry workers in Forsyth, up 40 jobs. Visitors generated $41.1 million in state tax receipts (up $1.1 million) and $12.8 million in local tax receipts, essentially unchanged from 2011.

The Forsyth County Tourism Development Authority, which oversees Visit Winston-Salem, approved in June its largest budget -- $2.83 million for fiscal 2013-14 -- since the economic downturn began in 2007. The increase was based on the authority's confidence in the tourism rebound and its increased marketing efforts.

"Although our hotel occupancy and future convention bookings were pacing in a positive direction, it was certainly great affirmation to receive these annual numbers," said Richard Geiger, president of Visit Winston-Salem.

The authority gets more than 90 percent of its funding from the county hotel-occupancy tax. The tax is collected by hospitality venues as guests pay their bill. State law requires the proceeds be passed on to county governments, typically on a monthly basis, for dispersing. The grants are used primarily to help offset the infrastructure and logistical costs of groups that want to hold events here.

According to attendance figures provided to Visit Winston-Salem by county tourism destinations, Tanglewood Park was by far the most popular site at 545,978 visitors in 2012. The Tanglewood total includes Forsyth residents as visitors.

Historic Bethabara was second at 132,102, followed by Old Salem Museums and Gardens at 89,780, SciWorks at 70,565 and Reynolda House at 33,285.

For the Triad and Northwest N.C., visitors spent $2.88 billion -- up 4.7 percent from 2011 -- while generating $555.3 million in payroll (up 4.3 percent) for 26,810 employees (up 1.9 percent).

The state agency said that all 100 counties experienced an increase in tourism spending last year.

Overall, visitors spent a record $19.4 billion in the state in 2012, up 7.88 percent. State tax receipts as a result of visitor spending were $970.4 million; local tax revenues -- which can represent hotel occupancy tax or special taxes to pay for a community's visitor infrastructure -- totaled $579.4 million.

The state agency said visitor expenditures directly generated 193,610 jobs statewide, up 3.5 percent, and almost $4.4 billion in payroll income, up 9.8 percent.

Mecklenburg County was ranked first in tourism spending at $4.4 billion, followed by Wake County at $1.8 billion and Guilford County at $1.16 billion.

"Tourism is a key tenet of our economic development strategy for North Carolina, and it means jobs for our citizens," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement. "It's encouraging that every corner of North Carolina is benefitting from tourism."

rcraver@wsjournal.com

(336) 727-7376

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