Around Town

Does Charlotte have potential as a vacation destination?

I never really think of Charlotte as a vacation destination. I was at a Charlotte Ballet performance at the Knight Theater the other week and a mother-daughter pair, Diana and Leila Collins of Georgia, told me they were in town for spring break.

Question: What exactly would draw you to Charlotte in your precious spare time?

Well, they did have one point of reference — a family member is at school in Charlotte. But they were here together to explore. The pair described the appeal of the city: it’s pretty, and it’s a clean, non-crowded metropolitan area. (In my head: You haven’t been on I-85 during rush hour yet.)

As for adventures, they had so far opted to check out the city via a segway tour, plus a look at The Green uptown and the EpiCentre (Whisky River in particular). They were planning to explore some local museums as well.

They’re not the first to mention a trip to Charlotte — back in 2013, I remember overhearing coworkers in Charleston talking about visiting Charlotte on a day trip. The destination: Carowinds.

So maybe the idea of Charlotte becoming a vacation destination isn’t so far-out.

Laura Hill White, director of communications at the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA), pointed out that travelers are becoming more interested in seeing major cities, not just beach and mountain destinations. Places like Nashville and Portland have set that precedent.

And Charlotte has already achieved an annual visitor volume of 25.83 million, according to Longwoods International. CRVA data shows that overnight leisure comprises 36 percent of visitors’ trips, while 57 percent is day trips and 7 percent is categorized as “other.”

It’s not clear how many of those visitors treat Charlotte as a vacation destination (vs. a business fly-by or family reunion), and White pointed out that nearly half of the city’s visitors are visiting friends and relatives.

Still, the greater Charlotte area is certainly being marketed as a major-city destination.

CRVA created a link featuring all of the activities you could dive into if you visited Charlotte for spring break, specifically. It includes: Fun for the kids at  Lazy 5 Ranch and ImaginOn; fun for adults at one of the 40 public golf courses like Highland Creek Golf Club, and farmers-market and vineyard exploration at Atherton Mill and Treehouse Vineyards, respectively.

Featured whole-family activities include a trip to the US National Whitewater Center, The Mint Museum and Carowinds.

Lazy 5 Ranch

The Ballantyne Hotel is a destination on that list, as well. Alyssa Reyes, a concierge at The Ballantyne Hotel, said the hotel provides a leaflet to all guests titled “Might I Suggest,” to direct visiting guests to restaurants, sightseeing spots and kid-friendly activities in the area.

“Charlotte is high in cultural activity,” she said, so she initially sends newcomers uptown to check out museums like Levine Museum of the New South and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. For the outdoor-adventure seekers, she directs them to the US National Whitewater Center. She suggests Carowinds for families.

It’s different for corporate community visitors — she sends them to restaurants with a Southern taste, Reyes said, like 5Church, The Gallery and The Fig Tree.

With these signature attractions, impending hotel development, an emerging culinary scene and a burgeoning brewery scene, White said, “Charlotte is on the cusp of something big.”

The city’s “slew of kid-centric attractions, enriching museums, free parks and outdoor activities” are why even named Charlotte one of the “10 Best Spring Break Destinations for Families” back in 2013.

And as the city starts to establish itself as a destination, what I’m most curious about is what people will start to think of when they think of Charlotte. The home of Carowinds? The region’s center for the arts? The brewery capital of the South?

What can we become?

Photos: Jeff Willhelm/Charlotte Observer, L. Mueller/Charlotte Observer