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Signs point to improved tourism

Garden Jubilee kicks off what downtown merchants hope will be a big tourism season. Garden Jubilee kicks off what downtown merchants hope will be a big tourism season.

The forecast for Henderson County tourism is sunnier this year than it has been for the past four years, tourism officials and downtown promoters say.

The unofficial kickoff of the 2012 tourism season arrives this weekend with the Garden Jubilee, the biggest event of the year that the county's tourism promotion agency puts on and a big magnet for downtown traffic.
"We've been expecting a good year for several months now because our occupancy has been up and the phone calls we've been seeing are up," said Beth Carden, acting director of the Travel and Tourism agency. "We're expecting a really big turnout."
This year's Memorial Day weekend event has 265 vendors and a projected crowd of 75,000 people. "Those 75,000 will be shoppers," she said. "They will be spending money."
"We've been expecting a good year for several months now because our occupancy has been up and the phone calls we've been seeing. We're expecting a really big turnout."
Travel & Tourism in recent years has expanded its marketing reach by buying ads in Southern Living, Our State and other magazines that circulate statewide or across the South. With its Garden Jubilee kickoff, 12 Music on Main concerts and Fourth of July celebration, T&T hopes to fill streets, inns and stores all summer long. So far, Carden said, signs are encouraging.
A survey last year of vendors found that of those who traveled far enough to stay overnight stayed four nights in Hendersonville. "I think that's an indication that our show has a great reputation."


Retailers feel 'mild security'
Once all the flowers have gone, the work is just beginning on the high season.
"We're cautiously optimistically I think," said Lew Holloway, the director of Historic Downtown Hendersonville. "We're very excited about the completion of phase 2 of the Main Street work and we'll be extremely excited when we finish with (600 block) phase 3 next winter."
Holloway counts the Main Street work as one factor that enhances downtown's sense of place. More music and theater downtown and shops staying open later are other factors that should boost tourism and spending.
"The mid block plaza and all of that really I think makes it a multifaceted space," he said. It makes it a place where you can sit and relax and watch people which a lot of us like to do.
"In terms of retail in general we'll sort of see. I feel like most people are feeling a general sense of I would say mild security," he said. Over the winter, "some people were down, but some people had pretty good winters." The mild winter helped. "It makes a big difference for us because we're so dependent on pedestrian traffic."
Weekends Alive, a cooperative effort among merchants to stay open later on Friday and Saturday nights, is another sign of downtown vitality.
"One of the things that the promotions committee identified early on as one of our goals was to align hours and opportunity," Holloway said. "We're cautious about saying you should be open this late or that late but we do want to continue to drive the conversation about where that balance and where that opportunity is to take full advantage."
Part of what's happening is a recognition that "nightlife in downtown now versus 10 years ago is a completely different experience," he said, "and I think we would say 10 years from now we hope that it's that much more of a difference."

Hendersonville has a small 'theater district'
The downtown Playhouse is an asset that should generate traffic, too.
"It's hard to over-emphasize the impact that kind of anchor and cultural attraction can have," he said. "We have Mast General on one end of Main Street and while we don't compare ourselves to a mall, the Playhouse is certainly an anchor for the south end of Main."
Add the Heritage Museum, the Hendersonville Little Theatre, the ECCO aquarium and the Hands On children's museum and downtown is reaching a critical mass of entertainment choices.
The community theater on State Street "was a little bit more removed and they're certainly more connected to downtown at this point.... We have a bit of a theater district occurring because of their move to Washington Street."
Carden, of T&T, agreed that the two theaters can only help the traffic count downtown.
"I think they're both very positive impacters from a new product and growing product perspective," she said. "We've seen a huge impact from people coming downtown to the Playhouse. Our parking lot stays full all the time now."
Appealing to every interest and every age group, Holloway said, is the key to a downtown that draws lots of visitors.
"Being in landscape architecture, I always sort of compare it to if you plant a monoculture of trees, one disease can come along and knock out all your trees," he said. Diversity protects against an overreliance on one kind of entertainment. "The more people you can appeal to, the stronger you become," he said.

Be friendly
John Shiery, the owner of the Waverly Inn on North Main, expects a 3-5 percent uptick in bookings this year. The downtown Playhouse spot has helped, he said.
"The new downtown venue has had a very good impact on business for us, and I assume it's impacted business positively elsewhere," he said. "I drove through downtown on a recent Sunday night and was stunningly surprised at the large number of people that were downtown on a Sunday."
He also praised the city's work on the 300 and 400 blocks of Main Street.
"I think the town is doing everything that it possibly can to help," he said. "I think the Main Street project is remarkably spot on. I think everything that Hendersonville has done is right in line with what it needs to do to help the small business people in town."
Shopkeepers, innkeepers and waiters can help even more with a friendly attitude that makes visitors remember Hendersonville as a friendly place.
"That's what's gonna bring them back, is good word of mouth," Shiery said. "Everybody's just got to continue to be friendly and nice and make them want to come back to Hendersonville."