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Tourism expected to grow around lake

By Kim Smith
Correspondent

This story appeared Sunday in some of the Observer’s regional sections.

Signs are pointing to a banner year for tourism spending around the lake.

Tourists pumped $23 million into the Lake Norman economy at events sponsored by Visit Lake Norman in 2012, a 21 percent increase over summer 2011, according to the latest 2011-12 VLN annual report. VLN is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting tourism and travel in Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville

Leah Mitcham, executive director of the Mooresville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, didn’t provide local figures on summer tourism expectations. But she did quote a TripAdvisor survey that said 86 percent of the 1,200 people surveyed plan to take a trip this summer.

Another sign that summer 2013 will be good for the Lake Norman area: Nearly nine out of 10 the people surveyed by TripAdvisor said that gas prices, which averaged around $3.60 per gallon nationally at mid-May, will have no impact on their summer travel plans.

And some homeowners who rent their scenic lakefront properties predict brisk business this summer.

“Yes, we are doing well,” said Teresa McMaster, a U.S. Airways pilot who started renting the upstairs part of her lakefront house in Mooresville, which she calls Landover Lodge, in 2009. The upstairs is 3,500 square feet, with four bedrooms and four baths. McMaster lives downstairs, which is 6,000 square feet.

“Landover Lodge is completely booked for the summer,” she said after posting her home on Homeway.com.

It’s one of 117 Lake Norman properties listed on the website, which homeowners use to rent their homes. As of May 19, the online calendar linked to her property showed the home is booked solid for July and August and most of May and June at $350 a night, with bookings extended through October.

A spot check of other lakefront rentals on the website for Lake Norman also showed a steady stream of bookings at least through August. It’s an indication that the economic recession is easing, said McMaster.

The anticipation of a strong 2013 summer tourism season comes on the heels of September’s Democratic National Convention and a campaign by VLN to lure some of the people who came for the convention in Charlotte to the Lake Norman area.

“The DNC brought in a large number of attendees, filling the majority of hotels during the usually slower Labor Day week,” said Courtney Wolfrom, marketing and communications manager for VLN. “We worked hard with our hospitality partners to create experiences that hopefully will bring some of those visitors back long-term.”

A consultant’s report released in January said the convention pumped $164 million into the area’s economy, spurred in part by people who rented lakefront homes, stayed in hotel rooms or took advantage of recreational opportunities in Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson before, during and after the convention.

But who is renting this summer and who benefits from the money they spend?

McMaster described her typical renter as a family of four, needing a place to stay while attending baseball and softball tournaments, which according to Wolfrom, made up $10.5 million of the $23 million generated in tourism dollars in 2012.

They also visit nearby wineries, the Billy Graham Library, NASCAR races and museums or the U.S. National Whitewater Center, said McMaster.

“When they come here, they do different things, even travel to Asheville to visit Biltmore House.”

Renters also participate in a number of water recreational activities on the lake and – fortunately for restaurants and bars in the area – they eat out most of the time, McMaster observed.

That money circulates among local restaurants and bars and other small businesses.

That’s good news for Derek Stevens, a junior business and marketing major at N.C. State, who has been working for the past three summers at CS Rentals, which rents pontoons and Jet Skis at Queen’s Landing in Mooresville.

“Tourists are the majority of our business,” he said on a rainy Monday recently.

During the summer, Stevens said, he’ll be working 12-hour shifts renting out pontoons and Jet Skis, checking them for needed repairs when they are turned in and cleaning them before renting them out again.

Many of his customers will be tourists, who tip well – so well, in fact, that Stevens is able to live off the tips during the summer and save his paychecks for school and nonschool-related items when he returns to N.C. State in the fall.

“I’m anticipating a good summer, weather permitting. But it needs to quit raining every weekend,” he said as it began to rain again, this time a litter harder.

Kim Smith is a freelance writer.
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