Visitors leave large impact on county

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Drive past local hotels on a week night, and there’s a good chance the parking lot will be nearly full.

Unless you’re trying to book a last-minute room for a visitor, that’s good news for those of us in Covington County, because economic experts estimate those visitors left a $37M impact on the county last year.

The Alabama Tourism Department, in conjunction with Auburn University at Montgomery, calculates the impact based solely on lodging taxes. In other words – that’s the impact travelers had before you count the beach traffic that only stopped for gas or lunch. The formula is based on interviews researchers have done with travelers to determine typical behaviors. For instance, a person who stays overnight will typically eat out at least one meal.

Sporting events and corporate travel are responsible for many of those full nights at local hotels, but stops by people who are passing through are picking up, too, said Kim Jenkins, who manages the Andalusia Holiday Inn Express.

Appeal to travelers is among the many things considered by those who court retail and service establishments for Covington County, Covington County Economic Development Council president Rick Clifton said.

“We don’t want a retail addition that just dilutes business from our existing retail. We want a retail addition that adds to our existing retail.”

It’s not the kind of thing most of us think of when we consider ways to boost the local economy. But travelers sleep, eat, drink and buy gas, and that provides jobs, too.

A proposed Rails to Trails project that would develop more than 40 miles of an abandoned rail bed between Andalusia and Geneva could further inflate those travel numbers by drawing runners and bikers to the area. That project is only a dream right now, but it is a dream with proponents who are wisely working to form a coalition to make it a reality.

Similarly, events at the Covington Center Arena, ball tournaments and festivals also draw people to our community. Most of them leave a little money when they leave.

But the work in attracting businesses and visitors goes beyond that, beginning perhaps with beautification and clean-up efforts to make the community visually appealing.

Obviously, the formula is helping our economy right now. With continued vigilance, it can only get better.