Since the announcement last month of a proposed Mayors Task Force on Travel and Tourism, there has been a great deal of activity within the hospitality sector and businesses supported by travel and tourism.  While the task force has never convened a meeting, it may have ironically achieved the focused vision the mayors spoke about in their press release.

To say that the hotel owners, hospitality industry and local businesses have rallied their support behind Visit Lake Norman, our travel and tourism authority, may be an understatement. Visit Lake Norman was created in 2001 by the Lake Norman Chamber, in partnership with the three north Mecklenburg towns. Its mission is to create events such as amateur sporting events and business conferences, which produce visitors spending from out of town guests.

According to Visit Lake Norman’s Annual Report in 2009-10, events recruited by the organization brought $11.9 million in visitors spending, a 59 percent increase from the previous year. That is a return on investment of $24.26 for every $1 invested in the organization. Keep in mind all the dollars invested in Visit Lake Norman are from the accommodation and prepared meals taxes that are required by law to be spent on travel and tourism promotion, not from taxes generated by our local residents.

The tax was created in 1983 in a special N.C. local bill, in which the hospitality industry actually encouraged the tax be levied so funds would be available to market the region for leisure and business travel.

Since 2001, Visit Lake Norman has put the communities of Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius on the map as a destination for soccer, softball, fishing, bowling, and other tournaments and events. How is that important to our residents? Every time a visitor spends money in our towns, counties, and state, they also pay sales tax, plus a combination of other taxes. Those dollars do not come from us, the residents, yet the money contributes directly to our school system, to help expand and maintain our roads and to provide precious services like police, fire, and rescue. Community growth, made possible in a regional approach, is achieved by tourism dollars without residents having to pay a single extra penny. According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, visitors spending in Mecklenburg County saved every household in our three towns $304 in taxes last year, cash out of your budget, if it were not for our hospitality businesses.

I am a co-owner of a marketing and print-communications company in Cornelius, and I know the impact our hotels, restaurants and attractions have on our local businesses. Those businesses and the people they employ also buy products and acquire services from other businesses throughout our lake region. Each of us is affected by visitors’ spending and the hospitality industry, and no organization does a better job than Visit Lake Norman.

As chairman of the Lake Norman Chamber, I want to extend my thanks to the hotel and business owners, event organizers and citizens who have taken time to voice their support of a great organization. I would also like to thank those elected officials who appreciate the role of Visit Lake Norman and have confirmed their unwavering support.

While our market recovers from the recession of the last few years, we need to focus on how to increase visitors spending, sales revenues and business profitability. Visit Lake Norman is one component of our economic strategy that is effective and working for all of us.

– Robert Reed, Alphagraphics,