The latest report on the impact of tourism in this state underscores the way that Vermont has succeeded in turning its natural beauty into a vital engine of the economy.
Throughout the Great Recession, tourism continued to grow in Vermont. The report from the Department of Tourism and Marketing showed that in 2011, nearly 14 million people visited the state, creating 37,910 jobs for Vermonters, or about 11.5 percent of all jobs. That job total was up 13.1 percent over the total from 2009.
Visitors accounted for more than a third of all jobs in restaurants and bars and for 6.8 percent of all retail jobs, far above the national average. Spending by visitors produced $274.5 million in tax revenue, which was up 37.5 percent over 2009.
Vermont has always drawn visitors, eager to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and a summer climate cooler than the sweltering metropolises to our south. But it was the advent of winter sports that brought tourism to Vermont on a massive scale. Now winter is the busiest season for tourism, yielding $577.4 million from 3.87 million visitors in 2011. The second-busiest season was summer, which produced $489.2 million from 4.14 million visitors. Those numbers make clear that though more people come here in summer, winter visitors spend more money.
For the sake of the state’s prosperity, it is a good thing that the state has embraced its role as a tourist mecca. The Central Vermont region shows why. The latter half of the 20th century saw the decline of many traditional industries, which has made for a rough economic transition, made far easier by the rise of the ski industry, particularly in the Mad River Valley, and on up to Stowe.
Northern Vermont’s ski industry has shown the greatest gains in recent years due to major investments at the Jay Peak and Stowe resorts. Following Tropical Storm Irene, it was tourism in the Mount Snow area that suffered. In response the state plans to step in with additional reconstruction aid. Meanwhile, Killington is taking steps forward under new ownership to carry out long postponed development projects.
But winter is not the whole story. Combined, business during summer and fall exceeded the revenue from winter. It will be remembered that in 2009 National Geographic ranked Vermont as the sixth-best tourist destination in the world. The magazine cited the state’s scenic countryside, lively small towns, historic streetscapes and local business. It is a tourist magnet in the summer, the magazine said, but it “never seems overrun by visitors.”
Spring has been the laggard among the four seasons, partly because it is so short and iffy. Yet the state has had success marketing maple season, driving up visits in early spring.
During economic downturns, Vermont often benefits because it can provide vacations close to home for millions of people who might feel constrained from traveling on expensive vacations to Paris, the Caribbean or Colorado. Part of the reason is that tourism is anchored here in the form of real estate.
The real estate market may fluctuate during good and bad times, but the presence of ski condos and summer homes keeps people coming back. In fact, one consequence of the vacation home market is that in some places it drives real estate values beyond the means of Vermonters. At the same time, the state benefits from tax benefits derived from second homes.
National Geographic cited the state’s successful efforts to protect its environment as a key to its continued attractiveness. It is a continuing effort among groups at the state and local level dedicated to promoting the state’s working landscape and the pattern of historic villages surrounded by open and productive land. It turns out that environmental protection is good for the state — to the tune of billions of dollars — but especially if a vibrant, productive local economy is able to make good use of our abundant natural resources.MORE IN Editorials
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