ORANGE COUNTY – The Department of Commerce says tourism reached an all-time high in Orange County last year.

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Executive Director of the Orange County Visitors Bureau, Laurie Paolicelli says the industry generated about 161 million dollars last calendar year.

Paolicelli says the spending trend has continued this year.

“We’ve seen almost double digit increases,” Paolicelli says. “We’re right at about nine percent. This past June we were astounded that we were close to 85 percent occupancy rates in Orange County.”

Paolicelli attributes the increase to businesses reopening their pocket books after a recession hit wallets hard in 2009.

“When we see more business travel, when we see the governor, and the chancellor, and education saying that it’s okay to travel again, all of that has greatly contributed to our success,” Paolicelli says.

Orange County continued to advertise and remained on businesses’ radars when money was tight. Paolicelli says this made it memorable when businesses were ready to spend again.

“The key for us is that when the economy is down, that’s when you really advertise; because you know when the economy comes back, people remember all that you advertised,” Paolicelli says.

Paolicelli says she collaborates with the local hotel industry to focus on bringing in tourists during the work week.

“An area like a college town will generally do well on weekends,” Paolicelli says. “But then you have to fill those properties Sunday through Thursday, and we have over 1500 rooms here. That’s when you want to look at your medical business, and your business travel. That is a big part of any hotel’s budget.”

Paolicelli says she is already thinking about the future. She says she plans to continue reaching out to businesses and organizations. There are several groups on the checklist, but she emphasizes one in particular:

“I think LGBT holds very strong potential for Orange County, and I don’t believe we’re tapping into that,” Paolicelli says. “We have an openly gay mayor in Chapel Hill, and we are not attracting that growing segment nationally to the degree that we could.”

Paolicelli says hotels are filling up without needing to offer discounted prices. That’s one of many reasons spending has reached record highs.

“We had to discount during the recession, but we’re starting to see our rate come back now. Everything from our streets, to our trees, to our paths… it’s a special experience here, and people are willing to pay for it.”