"Tourism makes a significant and measureable difference in Angelina County," Tara Watson-Watkins, executive director of the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. "Tourism creates jobs, provides local tax revenue and supports a wide range of businesses, from retail stores and restaurants to gas stations and hotels. The travel industry is a powerful economic driver all across America, and especially here in Angelina County."
To bring attention to this economic impact of tourism on East Texas, the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau developed informative posters using graphics and charts to explain that, in 2011*:
The posters also provide some insight into who regularly visits Angelina County and why. According to the study used to create the displays, the average visitor to the Piney Woods is 46.9 years old, married, has a household income of $73,714 and traveled 302 miles by car to get here. The majority of visitors (74.9%) are Texans, and most come from either the Dallas-Fort Worth area (23.5%) or Houston (15.9%).
More than a third of the visitors to Angelina County came to see family or friends, while 16.4% came for vacation. Almost half of the visitors (46.4%) paid to stay in a motel, hotel or bed and breakfast, and the average travel party spent $216.89 each night they stayed in Lufkin. Of that money, 21% was spent on food and 17.2% on shopping.
According to the study, 13.5% of visitors came for special events. It's a factor Watson-Watkins keeps in mind when planning and promoting annual signature events like Corks and Forks and Summer Fest Texas.
"Information like this is interesting because not only does it show how tourism supports the community, it also shows how everyone in the community can play a role in supporting tourism," Watson-Watkins said. "Every special event, from Lufkin Bistro to the Neches River Rendezvous, gives people a reason to visit. The more community support those events have, the more successful they are, and the more tourists they attract. It's a snowball effect that improves the quality of life in Angelina County on every level."
The Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau uses data from a variety of sources to fine-tune events and activities in order to raise Lufkin's profile in the region and entice more visitors. One strategy is to schedule complementary events on the same weekend, which encourages visitors to spend the night.
"When we held Lufkin Bistro on the same weekend as the Pineywoods Purgatory, it became a sell-out event, with more than 800 people," Watson-Watkins said. "We were able to partner with the Pineywoods Purgatory and promote a stay-and-play package that offered a discount on a hotel and Bistro tickets.That's a win-win, because we are growing two different events, and more people are seeing what Lufkin has to offer. We're showcasing our natural beauty, our local restaurants and caterers, and Lufkin's appeal, and it's a fun day on top of all that. In addition, pairing these events turns a one-day event into a weekend visit, and that reinforces Lufkin's position as a tourist destination."
Watson-Watkins also points to renovation projects that are boosting Lufkin's appeal to visitors, including the Pines Theater downtown and the Pitser Garrison Convention Center.
"It's thrilling to meet people from all over the country who came to Lufkin to attend live performances at the Pines Theater. Our weekend movies are great day trips for families all across East Texas," she said. "And anytime you have a convention or meeting, or a big event like a rodeo, it's good for the local economy. In 2013, 400 people stayed for two weeks for the Texas and American Junior Brahman Association, and 200-plus people stayed for a week for a Model T convention. In 2014, we hosted hundreds of people for four days for the Fire Commissioners Conference, and 300 to 500 people visited with the Texas Agricultural Agents Association."
The data also shows what tourists do while visiting Angelina County, and Watson-Watkins finds that useful when promoting Angelina County as a destination. Nature-related activities, outdoor sports and sightseeing top the list of fun-filled ways visitors spend their time here, and the Lufkin and Convention and Visitors Bureau actively promotes that aspect of the Angelina County experience by distributing easy-to-read brochures and maps that help visitors navigate the lakes, rivers, marinas, trails and campsites in the area.
"More than a quarter of our visitors take part in some sort of outdoor experience," Watson-Watkins said. "We're very fortunate to live in a beautiful part of a beautiful state, and excellent amenities like Cassels Boykin Park keep people coming back. Because of the facilities there, we were able to host hundreds of fishermen in 2012 for the FLW Fishing Tournament, and they're coming back in 2014. The 2012 tournament filled 235 rooms, and Lufkin gained national exposure on their TV channel, 'FLW Outdoors.'"
While the data can be used to focus on very specific information about visitors, Watson-Watkins finds it helpful and encouraging to step back and look at the big picture.
"Angelina County has a lot to offer," she said. " More and more people are finding that out, and we want to keep them coming back."
The U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1983 designating the first full week of May as National Tourism Week. Since then, the U.S. travel community has collectively marked the event as an occasion to spread awareness of the impact of the travel industry.
*Source: The Economic Impact of Travel in Texas, Dean Runyan Associates