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By Staff
Tourism dollars are a sought-after commodity
Leada Gore, Hartselle Enquirer
More and more people are stopping in Morgan County during their travels, bringing with them money for the communities they visit and jobs for those in the tourism industry.
Figures released last week by the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau show visitors to Morgan County added more than $140 million to the local economy last year. Those figures are an 11 percent increase from 2003.
"Tourism and travel continued to be a vital part of the economic health of Decatur and Morgan County," said Pam Swanner, executive director of the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It provides employment for our residents, expands retail sales, provides additional money for our tax base and improves the local quality of life by creating more leisure-time and cultural activities for our residents."
Among the attractions touted by the CVB are Hartselle's antique stores and historic downtown, Point Mallard Park and the Joe Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
Hartselle doesn't rely on the CVB alone, however, to attract visitors. Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce funds interstate billboards touting the city's offerings and sends information packets to those wanting to know more about the area.
It's all done to bring those dollars here.
According to a study conducted by the Center for Business and Economic Development at Auburn University Montgomery, more than 2,676 Morgan County residents found work in the tourism and travel-related fields last year. This is a 10 percent increase above the previous year's figures and gives Morgan County a 11th place statewide ranking in the number of tourism and travel jobs. Those jobs include things such as those working at lodging facilities, restaurants, retail stores, entertainment and transportation fields. Most tourism dollars – some 28 percent – went to restaurants. Other spending areas included auto transportation (22 percent); public transportation (16 percent); lodging facilities (13 percent); and entertainment and general retail (10 percent each).
It's those figures that makes investing in tourism a good bet, Swanner said.
"The travel and tourism industry is one of the state's top industries, producing around $25-to-$1 return on funds invested in promotion and development," she said.
Lodging taxes collected in Morgan County last year totaled some $707,467, an 11 percent increase above 2003. The state averaged a 10 percent overall increase in lodging taxes.
Hartselle levies a 5 percent lodging tax at its hotels and motels.
"Loding taxes are used a thermometer of the tourism and travel industry because there is a direct correlation between hotel guests and expenditures by guests for fuel, food, gifts and retail purchases, entertaining and sight-seeing," Swanner said.
Morgan County's positive tourism news was echoed statewide. Alabama's tourism and travel industry grew by 8 percent last year, with more than 20.6 million people visiting the state in 2003.
Tourists paid some $548 million in state and local lodging taxes and sales taxes last year, according to state officials.

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