From Derek Lacey at the Hendersonville Times-News:
Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) and Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) are the first state legislators to be awarded the inaugural Tourism Champion Awards from the N.C. Travel and Tourism Coalition, the organization announced Wednesday.
The two Western North Carolina legislators are the first-ever winners of the Champion Awards, which go to those who advocate for the strong tourism and travel industry in the state.
“Sen. Apodaca and Rep. McGrady are two of our tourism industry’s greatest champions,” Coalition Chairman Rolf Blizzard, vice president of Turnpike Properties, said in a news release.
The coalition, a nonprofit trade association with members like the Biltmore Estate, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and more, honored Apodaca and McGrady for their personal contributions to keeping the state’s $21 billion travel and tourism industry strong.
“Tourism issues have become more and more prevalent in the legislature and meanwhile, tourism is the only industry in North Carolina that continued to grow through the Great Recession,” said Coalition spokesperson Matthew Eisley.
Beth Carden, executive director of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, said she was “absolutely not surprised” that McGrady and Apodaca received the awards, saying the legislators both recognize tourism as a strong economic driver and support it through their work.
“They really are conscious of helping Western North Carolina,” she said, mentioning legislation focused on occupancy taxes, keeping the western part of the state at the forefront and keeping up with transportation infrastructure.
Apodaca was recognized with the tourism Champion Award for his protection of the state’s balanced school calendar law. The law protects the peak summer travel season, which is vital to the state’s second-largest industry, the release says.
“I think it’s important because we have so many summer camps,” Apodaca said of the school calendar, adding that the extra week or two of additional camp time brings in substantial tax dollars. He noted that McGrady, a former summer camp owner, is also a strong advocate.
An entrepreneur currently in his seventh term — and not seeking an eighth — Apodaca serves as chairman of the Rules Committee.
“With a successful business owner’s appreciation of the economic importance of North Carolina’s tourism industry from the mountains to the coast, Sen. Apodaca has been a stalwart defender of our state’s common-sense school calendar law,” Blizzard said in the release.
Apodaca said he was honored to receive the award and that tourism is extremely important in the area, calling it one of the driving economic forces.
He said the whole area lends itself to tourism. Looking back on successes in the industry, he pointed to DuPont State Recreational Forest. In the future, he sees even more tourism coming to the area with attractions like the Tryon International Equestrian Center.
Building on those successes means having more attractions and more places for visitors to stay, he said, noting a new Wingate hotel planned for the county.
Carden said the Wingate, planned for Airport Road near I-26, will be the first new franchise hotel for Henderson County in nine years.
Third-term Republican McGrady serves as co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee and executive director of the North Carolina Youth Camp Association.
He was honored with the award for his work helping to secure $2 million in extra state funding for tourism promotion and helping to protect the school calendar law, the release says.
McGrady said he’s very proud of the fact that he’s viewed as being sensitive to the tourism and travel issues, and that the community views him as a friend.
“Travel and tourism is just huge in Henderson County,” McGrady said, explaining that the economy runs as a three-legged stool, propped up by manufacturing, agriculture and travel and tourism, “and we’ve got a really nice balance.”
He said making sure the travel and tourism industry is healthy is a very big priority.
Successes like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s decision to locate in the county, along with a range of other craft brewers, wineries and cider makers, have “really linked in to travel and tourism in a big way,” he said.
“We’re becoming sort of for beer what Napa and Sonoma are for California. You can come in and spend several days here and not have the same beer,” he said, adding that people who come to visit those facilities also stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.
“No other legislator – and few people – have as deep a personal understanding of the value of tourism to our customers, our workers and our communities across North Carolina as Rep. McGrady,” Blizzard said.