Henderson and Transylvania counties experienced top-of-the-chart growth in visitor spending and employment in 2018, according to state figures released Thursday.

Henderson County experienced a 6.4% increase in visitor spending, and Transylvania County saw 6.5%.

For direct tourism employment growth, Transylvania County grew by 2.9% and Henderson County by 2.8%.

The two counties were in the top 10 of the state’s 100 counties in both categories.

The data comes from an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

Henderson County TDA Executive Director Beth Carden was pleased with the results of this year’s study, although not surprised.

Hendersonville continues to be an international destination, she said. Visitors come from all 50 U.S. states and around the world each year. Activities for visitors continue to grow as well, allowing more opportunities for increased spending.

Henderson County retained its No. 14 spot in visitor spending with a total $313.7 million spent here in 2018. Transylvania County landed at No. 43 with $106.32 million, and Polk County was at No. 76 with $32.4 million.

In 2017, Henderson County’s visitors spent $294.6 million, Transylvania County’s $99.8 million and Polk County’s $30.73 million.

Henderson County had the second-highest ranking in Western North Carolina. Buncombe County grabbed the No. 4 spot in the state.

Carden pointed out the significant difference of hotel rooms between the two counties, a figure that contributes to overall spending. Buncombe County has about 18,000 hotel rooms compared to Henderson County’s 2,500. A handful of hotels have been added in the last couple of years here in the county.

With the increase in tourism employment, Carden said the industry is one of the largest local economic drivers.

Growth has been across the board, she said, with the addition of new hotel staff along with retailers staying open later, and the opening of more cideries, breweries and restaurants.

“We have more going on here than ever before and that requires more people to come on board,” Carden explained.

The more there is to do, the longer visitors will stay, Carden pointed out. She also hears from many tourists who are happy that there is something new to see and do each season. Many make multiple trips to the county.

“There is something here for everyone,” Carden said.

One of the main reasons for the overall growth is that there are more local activities stretching throughout the year, particularly during the slower tourism months. Home for the Holidays events in the winter and the bridal show in March are a couple of examples.

Across the state

Record visitor spending in 2018 was reflected with increases in all 100 counties, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a news release Thursday.

Domestic visitors spent a record $25.3 billion statewide in 2018, an increase of 5.6% from 2017. State tax receipts as a result of visitor spending neared $1.3 billion in 2018, and local tax revenues directly resulting from visitor spending totaled $774.6 million.

Visitor expenditures directly supported more than 230,000 jobs and generated more than $6.3 billion in payroll income across North Carolina.

“North Carolina’s tourism industry set a new record last year in visitor spending despite the effects of the storms,” Cooper said in a news release. “This is a testament to the lasting beauty of our state and the determination of our people.”

Noting that North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation for overnight visitation, Visit NC Executive Director Wit Tuttell said the spending growth in all 100 counties confirmed the appeal of the state’s destinations.

“There’s a lot of competition for travelers’ time and money,” Tuttell said. “But people come to North Carolina when they know about the state’s natural beauty, our residents’ welcoming spirit, and the irresistible mix of tradition and innovation.”

The visitor spending study commissioned by Visit North Carolina is conducted by the U.S. Travel Association. The study uses sales and tax revenue data, employment figures and other industry and economic data to determine the overall impact of visitor spending in North Carolina.

For more information, go to partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies.