Tourism increase is a gift horse worth examining

A statistically significant increase in local tourism is the proverbial gift horse. Whatever the reasons, conventional wisdom says we shouldn’t look it in the mouth. Common sense, on the other hand, says we should figure out just what it is somebody’s apparently been doing right.

Fiscal 2011 saw a significant increase in visitors to Columbus over the previous year, but not quite up to the FY 2009 total. So what brought more people here last year, and why did it fall off the year before?

One of the answers to the latter question would almost certainly be the economy. One of the answers to the former, as Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau chief Peter Bowden pointed out, was Fort Benning expansion and the military graduations that brought families here.

Bowden also cited more aggressive marketing in social media as a factor that brought the Columbus area to more tourists’ attention.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on new strategies and new technologies,” Bowden said, “so that we can talk to the market regardless of what they’re accustomed to looking at.”

Whatever the reasons for the increase, they were worth about $40 million in additional economic impact, and almost 350 extra jobs.

Will the whitewater attraction help? Let’s all hope so. Will the specter of spiking gas prices this summer hurt? Let’s hope not. Because one thing we knew even before the Ready2Raft project was that however we get people to come here, they don’t have to try hard to find plenty of reasons for coming back.

Money well spent

One of the graduates of basic training at Fort Benning said of the new Infantry Silver Dollar, “The coin is a good reminder of what we have accomplished.”

The “we” no doubt refers to the young soldier and his classmates.

But it also applies to the incalculable achievements and sacrifices of all the Infantry soldiers who have served this country since the days of the Continental Congress.

The National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center Commemorative Act of 2008 authorized the U.S. Mint to issue 350,000 of the new silver dollars -- a limited minting that all but guarantees collector value. To those among us who are not proud new members of the Infantry, the coins sell for $49.95 proof and $44.95 uncirculated until March 19, after which they will cost $5 more.

The coin features the familiar “Follow Me” figure on one side and a pair of crossed rifles on the other. And $10 from each purchase will go to the National Infantry Foundation.

If ever American money has been well spent, it would be for this fitting tribute to and support for the American foot soldier.