Foreign tourists like N.C.

North Carolina ranked 15th in the nation in attracting overseas visitors last year, up from 18th in 2005, according to data released Friday.

North Carolina attracted 358,000 tourists from overseas last year, which was a record, according to the state Department of Commerce.

The prior high was 305,000 overseas tourists in 2004. A total of 282,000 overseas tourists visited the state in 2005, the last year that overseas tourism data was compiled for North Carolina, said Commerce Department spokesman Wit Tuttell.

The weak U.S. dollar — which enables overseas tourists to buy more with their money — has helped attract additional tourists from overseas, Tuttell said.

The N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development also spent about $1 million last year to promote the state in overseas markets.

That included, for example, running ads aimed at German golfers.

This year, the division plans to run ads in Britain and Canada tied to “Leatherheads” and “Nights in Rodanthe,” two movies filmed in the state, said executive director Lynn Minges.

“Europeans are enamored with American movies and these two, we expect, will be particularly well-received and will spark interest in traveling to the places that were backdrops for these films,” she said, in a prepared statement.

Overseas visitors are important targets partly because they spend more money and stay longer than domestic visitors. Overseas visitors to North Carolina stay 12 days and spend an average of $2,568 per trip, while domestic visitors stay 3.3 days and spend $549, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

“More and more people realize what a great state North Carolina is,” Gov. Mike Easley said in a prepared statement.

The data was compiled by the International Trade Administration and the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries in the U.S. Department of Commerce, based on in-flight surveys given to international passengers flying into the United States. Passengers flying from Canada and Mexico aren't included in the data.