Never say never! Over the years I have given this advice a thousand times. My career has been living proof that when one makes this type of bold proclamation the gods will be tempted to put you in your place. I made this error over 40 years ago. My life took a completely different path and what a place it put me in.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] began working at my first hotel when I was 16 years old. It was a part time job while I was attending Erwin High School. I was hired as a bellman, and within 90 days I made my first major career mistake. As a bellman, I was making a $100 a day in cash tips. Remember this was 1974, and that was serious money for a 16-year-old kid from West Asheville. So I went from this wonderful job with no responsibility to accepting a so-called promotion to become the Front Desk Supervisor.
The promotion came with a title printed on a brass name tag. Even then I was attracted to shiny things. I traded in my uniform for the privilege of wearing a necktie. The cash tips were traded in for the princely sum of $3.50 per hour, and I began working 70 very stressful hours a week for the next three years at The Great Smokies Hilton. Today, that hotel bears the Crowne Plaza flag.
Near the end of this tour of duty I was asked to meet with the General Manager and the owner of the hotel—Wayne Kinser. Mr. K was a true gentleman who always treated everyone with the greatest degree of kindness and respect. As I walked to the GM’s office, my mind was racing with what I had done wrong. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that I was trying to figure what I had been caught doing wrong.
To my surprise, they praised my work ethic and skill with the guests. They stated that I could have a great future in the hotel business and offered to help me with attending the nation’s premier hotel program at Cornell University. Considering my circumstances at that time, an intelligent response would be to humble and discuss the possibilities, but I was eighteen then, and I already knew everything there was to know. My reply was, “Thanks, but I have been accepted at UNC Chapel Hill and this is nothing more than a summer job.” With a combination of innocence and ignorance, I made my proclamation—challenging fate itself. “Once I leave here I will never work in a hotel again.” It turns out fate had another plan for me.
I have spent the last 36 years of my career in the tourism industry, with the vast majority of those decades spent in the hotel business. I have little need for aids to remind me of my age because I have a mirror. However, when The Grove Park Inn (GPI) celebrated its 100th Anniversary on July 12, 2013, I realized that I had personally lived 35% of that grand dame’s history. During my last 12 years at GPI, I had the honor of being the Inn’s President and CEO holding that position until January 2012.
I still resent the jokes that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and I used to hang out together in front of the giant fireplaces in the lobby. Of course what I resented more was listening to Edison trying to tell a joke. He was deaf and always screwed up the punch line.
Due to GPI’s constant growth most community leaders seem to understand the economic benefit of the resort. However, it seemed as if the tourism industry was always having to defend itself from comments like, “Asheville’s economy is too dependent on low paying tourism jobs. We need real businesses to come to the area.” The regional tourism industry has found itself needing to assume a defensive posture throughout the years. It has often been the Rodney Dangerfield of the business categories—never getting the respect it deserves.
A recent study conducted by Tourism Economics on behalf of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau should put an end to these misconceptions and allow the tourism industry to claim its rightful place as one of the true economic engines of the regional economy.
The report entitled “The Economic Impact of Tourism in Asheville, North Carolina—2012 Analysis” proves that:
TOURISM is an integral part of the Asheville regional economy, and the industry is making significant contributions to economic growth, generating business sales, employment, and tax revenues.
VISITORS to Asheville spent $1.5 billion in 2012, which generated $2.3 billion in total business sales, including indirect and induced impacts. [The average visitor spent approximately $164.84]
TOURISM in Asheville generated $250.1 million in tax revenues in 2012, including 126 million in state and local taxes.
TOURISM employment growth in the Asheville region has outpaced that of the state and the nation.
INCLUDING direct, indirect, and induced impacts, 22,924 jobs were sustained by visitors to Asheville in 2012 with total income of $614.5 million.
APPROXIMATELY 14.2% (1 in 7) of all jobs in Buncombe County were sustained by tourism.
AN ESTIMATED 25% of tourism supported jobs were in the food and beverage sector, 18% in lodging, 13% in retail, and 12% in recreation.
Tourism has failed to get the respect it has deserved due to the failure in understanding the true impact and depth of tourism spending. The report from Tourism Economics, which is a subsidiary of Oxford Economics, proves that local tourism generated nearly $2.3 billion in revenue in 2012, including indirect and induced business sales.
The local tourism industry has a right to crow about this study. Like that wonderful favorite southern expression, “It ain’t bragging if it’s so.” This report should be on the top of the reading list of every elected official in the region. It should be required reading for those who are currently running for office this year for the first time. After all, if tourism employees ever voted together as a block, they could have a major impact on the outcome of any election. Of course, that could never happen. Oops. I said it again.
The Economic Impact of Tourism in Asheville, North Carolina 2012 Analysis can be downloaded from ashevillecvb.com.