High Falls


Western North Carolina's annual fall color display should draw more tourists this October than last year when a federal government shutdown stymied some travelers, according to a new study from Western Carolina University.

With the national parks open and fall colors forecast to be especially good this year, hotel occupancy rates should increase in 21 mountain counties, according to the second annual "October Tourism Forecast for Western North Carolina."

The report is developed by students in a senior-level "Tourism Strategies" class taught by Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Program in WCU's College of Business.

"The federal government shutdown during the first 15 days of October in 2013 resulted in little growth in tourism last year because of the closure of campgrounds and visitor centers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway," Morse said.

"Our analysis indicates those who did not travel to the mountains last October may have a stronger desire this year to feed their fall foliage yearning."

The students analyzed data supplied by Smith Travel Research, a leading source of information for the hospitality industry. The students' forecast also is based on declining gasoline prices, new tourism marketing campaigns by the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau and by Smoky Mountain Host promoting WNC as an outdoors destination, improving economic conditions and "pent-up travel demand," Morse said.

Another factor, Morse said, is the improving outlook for leaf-lookers in the mountains, as WCU fall foliage forecaster Kathy Mathews, associate professor of biology, says the chances are increasing for a brilliant fall color season this year. "Brighter colors should attract even more tourists this year," Morse said.

In the tourism study, the WCU students divided 21 WNC counties into five groups; examined the total number of hotel rooms sold and the overall occupancy rates for October 2013; compared weekday and weekend occupancy rates from last October; and determined the average change in the number of hotel nights sold for October during the previous three years. The students' predictions, by region:

Region 1 – Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties: A 2.7 percent increase in October 2014 tourism compared to last October.

Region 2 – Haywood, Jackson, Transylvania and Swain counties: A 3.3 percent increase in October 2014 tourism compared to last October.

Region 3 – Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties: A 2 percent increase in October 2014 tourism compared to last October.

Region 4 – Burke, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell and Yancey counties: A 1.7 percent increase in October 2014 tourism compared to last October.

Region 5 – Buncombe and Henderson counties: A 3.7 percent increase in October 2014 tourism compared to last October.

Ty Marion, a senior from Hendersonville majoring in hospitality and tourism, said the project provided a new perspective on the annual fall color show. "Since the leaves start changing colors in early October and continue for the rest of the month, tourists travel from all over, which increases everything from the demand of hotel rooms to revenue," said Marion, a 2007 graduate of East Henderson High School.

The "October Tourism Forecast for Western North Carolina" is part of a series of reports about travel trends in the mountain region to be provided by Morse and his students.

For more information about WCU's Hospitality and Tourism Program, visit the website For a copy of the tourism forecast report, call 828-227-3386.