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Tourists racing to Charlotte area

RALEIGH - Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Union counties enjoyed some of the largest increases in the state in tourist traffic last year, part of a 7.4 percent rise in tourism statewide, state officials announced today.

Mecklenburg, which led all counties in total tourism revenue, watched its tally of visitors go up 9.5 percent. Union saw a 12.2 percent jump, and Cabarrus' numbers were up 12.1 percent.

Tourism statewide brought in $17.1 billion. The figures, though, cover 2007 and don't indicate how much the economic slump that worsened severely this year has affected travel.

“Tourism is a key economic driver, particularly for several of our rural and urban counties,” Gov. Mike Easley said in a prepared statement, “and plays a critical role in adding new jobs to our economy and supports our other economic development efforts.”

The data comes from an annual study commissioned by the state Division of Tourism and compiled by the Travel Industry Association using sales figures, tax revenue and employment numbers.