A source of extra revenue

On Monday night, the executive director of the Orange County Visitors Bureau, Laurie Paolicelli, gave the Town Council scads of information about how important tourism is for Chapel Hill, how the town has a lot of features that visitors look for when considering a destination, and how much money tourism generates for town businesses and taxes.

“Everything a tourist looks for, we have in Chapel Hill,” Paolicelli told the council.

Paolicelli said tourism brings $152 million a year into the county, with Chapel Hill by far generating the most interest and dollars. And the number-one request the bureau gets from prospective visitors is whether the town has a guided tour. Apparently, such a tour is high on the list of must-do things for visitors. And there are plenty of sights to see in Chapel Hill – enough to provide plenty of stops on a town tour loop. Paolicelli even showed a drawing of where such a town tour loop would go – basically it would start at University Mall, wend its way along Franklin Street with a stop at the town museum, turn around at Carrboro’s Weaver Street Market, then come back for stops at the Ackland, the Carolina Basketball Museum and the planetarium.

It would be an 11-mile trip, so driving, either by bus or car, would be essential.

Now, buses can be expensive. The estimate tossed out at the meeting was $50 an hour per bus. And for such a tour you’d want several buses operating sequentially, so that visitors could get off the bus to visit a site (and especially a business or two) for more than just a casual stop. Which means that a tour that uses some means other than buses to get the tourists through the loop would be a nice alternative.

And that brings us to a suggestion by Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. He suggested that a system of self-guided stops could involve using cell phones to access tour information and presentations. Wait a minute – isn’t there a push to outlaw cell phone use while driving town streets? I wouldn’t want to see police issuing citations to drivers who were just dialing in to a historical presentation.

Then again, the town is going to need extra revenue to pay for that library renovation and those expensive parking spaces at 140 West Franklin. Great idea, Mr. Mayor!
–Don Evans

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