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TOURISM OFFICIALS SEE POSITIVE SIGNS

TOURISM OFFICIALS SEE POSITIVE SIGNS

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Greensboro's hospitality industry has a tough row to hoe as it enters the 1990s.

Parts of the city's hotel-motel business is overbuilt, resulting in occupancy rates for some areas that have slumped below 45 percent.Attempts to bolster the important meetings and convention business have been frustrated by a lack of space.

Lacking tourist attractions, the city has fought an uphill battle attempting to shirk its image as the ``pit stop of the Piedmont.'

Voters have twice turned down bond issues to expand and renovate the Greensboro Coliseum - a facility travel officials believe is key to growth in their industry.

But there are positive signs that give hope to industry officials.

For decades, the lion's share of Greensboro's travel dollar has come from business travelers. In recent years, though, hotels and motels have made a major effort to attract convention and meetings.

Since 1984 they have been assisted by the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, created that year by the General Assembly and funded with a 3 percent occupancy tax. The bureau had a hand in bringing 16 events to Greensboro in 1986-87; 22 the following year and 45 during 1988-89.

Judith Grizzel, executive director of the bureau, and other industry officials are heartened that prospects for upgrading the Coliseum are alive. The Greensboro City Council is considering another bond referendum for November.

Greensboro accountant Mike Dunn lists Coliseum renovations as one of two factors that will influence the industry in coming years.

``I know it (the loss of business to more modern facilities) has hurt some hotel properties,' said Dunn, who works for Pannell Kerr Foster, an accounting firm that tracks hotel-motel development.

The second factor, he said, will be business expansion. K mart's planned $40 million regional distribution center on the eastern edge of Greensboro is an example of the type of development necessary to improve business at the area's inns, he noted.

Observed John Meilstrup, president of the Guilford County Hotel and Motel Association: ``I think the future is very bright for our industry in this area because we're expanding economically, Greensboro is an attractive place to live and we're attracting new jobs. That means more business for the area and for the industry.'

Dunn said Greensboro's hotels and motels can expect increased business when Interstate 40 is completed to Wilmington later this year, making the North Carolina coast more accessible. Downtown hotels, which have suffered from low occupancy, should see a boost in business with the three new downtown office towers.

A number of hotels and motels along the interstates and near the airport have performed particularly well, reaching occupancy rates of over 70 percent.

Indeed, the star of the local hospitality industry, the Koury Corp.-owned Holiday Inn Four Seasons at I-40 and High Point Road, plans a 30-story, 400-room expansion that will greatly expand its convention space. The expansion will make it the largest hotel in North Carolina.

``It just makes sense that that some of the others (hotels near Four Seasons) will do well because you'll have overflow business,' said Alan Strong, general manager of the Airport Marriott. ``It's kind of the rising tide covers all shores.'

No one expects Greensboro to become a tourist destination that can attract travelers for week-long stays, but industry officials hope they can successfully promote the area as an economical two-or-three-day stop. Both the N.C. Zoological Park in Asheboro and Old Salem in Winston-Salem are nearby, ski resorts in the mountains are only a few hours away, and Burlington outlet stores are a short drive down the interstate.

In High Point, there are plans to open The Furniture Discovery Center early next year. The center would show tourists how furniture is made. Organizers hope it will attract up to 40,000 tourists annually.

``I think the real impact will be in getting new tourists - people who have not come to High Point before,' said Gary L. Smith, executive director of the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In Greensboro, the convention and visitors bureau hopes to generate business for the city by boosting the area's image as a center for sports. The city has hosted national softball, gymnastics, soccer, basketball and golf tournaments.

``We have defined sports marketing as a very viable market for us to become competitive in,' said Grizzel. ``We have excellent recreational and sporting facilities in our community.'

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