People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Monday, October 01, 2007

'Tourism' Ain't What It Used To Be

Astounding numbers have just been released regarding the growth of the tourism industry in Southwest Virginia.

This from Saturday's Bristol Herald Courier ("
Tourists flocking to Southwest Virginia and opening their wallets according to Virginia Tourism figures,"):

Figures released this week by the Virginia Tourism Corp. ... Tourists are flocking to Southwest Virginia and they are opening their wallets.

Virginia saw a 7.2 percent increase in visitor spending in 2006. But Southwest Virginia’s jump outpaced that.

Four of the seven coalfield localities netted an overall 8.9 percent increase, according to the Virginia Tourism Corp. Five of the state’s top 15 localities recording the biggest tourism spending increases are in Southwest Virginia.

Four of the five – Tazewell, Russell and Dickenson counties and the city of Norton – are in the coalfields.

Smyth County is Southwest Virginia’s other locality to make the top 15 list of spending increases.

Tazewell County saw a 13.2 percent growth when tourists spent $38.8 million in 2006. Smyth County’s numbers jumped 11.3 percent to reach $20.7 million. Visitors to Russell County spent $9.3 million in 2006 for a 10.9 percent increase. Dickenson County visitors dropped $5.7 million into local coffers when tourism jumped last year by 10.2 percent. The city of Norton also drew more revenue when tourists spent $14.5 million, a 9.8 percent increase from the previous year.

Jonathan Belcher, executive director of the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, said the region’s investment in tourism infrastructure is improving the economy.

The tourism figures show the authority’s decision a few years ago to pursue tourism development was a solid move, he said.
Gosh. It looks like I need to take back every negative thing I've ever written about the tourism industry here and apologize to Congressman Rick Boucher for ever having doubted his plan for economic revitalization that was to come about through the construction of dozens of bike paths and hiking trails in the area.

It would appear that his plan is a wild success.

"Would" being the operative word.

The numbers cited above, had the reporter checked them out, aren't "tourism" numbers. They're "travel" numbers.

What's the difference, you ask?

It's all in the definitions, the associated data, and in the conclusions that Virginia's paid cheerleaders are then able to extrapolate from it all.

First, let me say this: In a former life I was responsible for the acquisition and interpretation of demographic data at one of America's larger corporations. It was my job, as Director of Development, to gather statistics, organize them, determine from them trends in the marketplace, evaluate those trends and report them to upper management so that they could plan accordingly.

So I know how this stuff is accumulated. And fashioned. And I know a bit about how to interpret it.

I also know when I smell a rat.

Here's the sentence in this article that gave me pause:

Visitors to Buchanan County spent $16.3 million, much of it due to the Appalachian School of Law and the University of Appalachia’s pharmacy school.
A pharmacy school is a tourist destination. As is a law school.

What? WHAT?

Anyone else suddenly becoming suspicious of the report and/or the conclusion derived from it?

I first caught on to how tourism officials score this kind of thing when I read in an article in
the Galax Gazette in March that Carroll County's tourist traffic had skyrocketed in 2006 compared to the previous year. The increase was measured in dollars relating to lodging revenue, lodging taxes, and meal taxes.

Swell. All three categories are very quantifiable.

But they're not measures of tourism. They're simply measures of business activity. In the case of Galax and Carroll County, the growth could be attributable (and the local tourism director in fact attributed the numbers to ...) the build-up of motels at exit 14 on I-77. Were the dollars spent at those motels - and nearby restaurants - spent by tourists? Or just travellers passing through on their way to the Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Who knows?

Well, the tourism director knew. He classified all guests at the Holiday Inn at exit 14 as tourists. And celebrated. And he made those who pay his paycheck know how successful the county had been in drawing tourists to the community (even though the experience of those tourists may have not extended beyond the use of a toilet and a bed before moving on the next morning).

But that's not the half of it. As a (former) demographer, I know the next step in calculating the impact of tourism on the area is to take the measurable numbers and perform what's called extrapolation. We make inferences based on known facts. Some call it massaging the numbers.

Try to imagine what you end up with when you try to draw inferences from grossly flawed data.

You get the kind of newspaper article that appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier on Saturday.

In this case, unlike the reporter who simply regurgitated that which she was fed (Why do we need reporters for this? Why doesn't the Virginia Tourism Authority simply fax this crap directly to the people?), I went directly to the source - the data.

You can too.

First we go to The
Virginia Tourism Corp. website (that's where this report resides).

We then go to the site's page entitled, "
Economic Impact."

There you'll find two reports. The first is called "2006 Preliminary Economic Impact Estimates." That's where preliminary summary numbers are to be found.

The second and more important report is accessed at "
2006, The Economic Impact of Domestic Travel Expenditures on Virginia." Click on it and it brings you to a 54-page report entitled:

"The Economic Impact of Domestic Travel Expenditures on Virginia Counties 2006"

It's from this study that the reporter obtained her numbers.

It's at this point that she should have asked a simple question: Why does the report use the word 'travel' and not 'tourism'?


As noted on page 46 in the report itself:

There is no commonly accepted definition of travel in use at this time. For the purposes of the estimates herein, travel is defined as activities associated with all overnight and day trips to places 50 miles away or more, one way, from the traveler’s origin and any overnight trips away from home in paid accommodations.

The word tourism is avoided in this report because of its vague meaning. Some define tourism as all travel away from home while others use the dictionary definition that limits tourism to personal or pleasure travel.
"Some" being those who depend on the growth of the tourism industry for their livelihood.

Which definition would a sane person use?

● Some define tourism as all travel away from home

or ...

● Tourism is limited to personal or pleasure travel.

You can see where this is going. You get in your car and, by God, you're a tourist!

Most of us would look at a tourist as being someone on a trip for pleasure and/or for relaxation. But not these guys. They include ALL travel.

Which means (read the detail and you find that a 50-mile trip is considered "travel") for the purposes of this study, my wife's occasional trip to Home Depot in Christiansburg is considered a tourist journey. When I run down to Marion to buy tractor supplies at the TSC, I'm "travelling."

Considering the fact that I have to drive 20 miles just to buy a pair of fruit-of-the-looms, by these standards I do a whole mess of tourist travel.

And then there's the forty or so cities I visit each year - on business - the dollars spent therein are considered "travel" dollars?


Go to page 50 and see the industry categories that are included in the computation. Convenience store transactions. Purchases of medicines, cosmetics, and clothing. The "fixed costs of owning an automobile." "Commercial eating facilities and grocery stores or carry-outs, as well as on food purchased for off-premise consumption."

If all that doesn't make you a bit leery of the validity of this report, go to page 54 and you'll find the sources of the data from which the tourism travel conclusions were drawn. Included along with the many legitimate sources is one that has proven itself to be less than trustworthy in such matters - The Virginia Tourism Authority. The state's tourism cheerleader.

It would do the citizens of Southwest Virginia well to learn how it is that this travel report came to be represented as a tourism report. "Travel," as you now know, can mean about anything. And is represented by some to mean something far different from the truth.

My guess is it wasn't a mistake made by the good folks at the Bristol Herald Courier (well, not completely anyway). After all, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph came out with a similar story a few days before (see "
Tazewell Tourism Flourishing") and cited the same report as its source. That's not a coincidence.

There was someone else pushing the story. Some cheerleader somewhere.

Beyond that, look at the numbers in that 54-page report relating to your community. You tell me if those travel expenditure dollars (Russell County - $9.31 million!) and related travel employment numbers (Washington County - 1,190 people!) pass your smell test.

If you're like me, you are by now having a few doubts.

Maybe some day someone in the mainstream media will as well.

Some day.

Update: October 2 - The Roanoke Times buys into the bait and switch as well. See "Tourism dollars check in to Roanoke Valley." And all kinds of officials are claiming credit.

A Heartless Act Indeed

When you get to studying the subject in detail, you find out that the Democrats' latest HillaryCare proposal - the SCHIP expansion - would give federal welfare handouts to an eye-popping 71% of America's children (if fully implemented), including the offspring of the filthy rich.

It's with that knowledge that you can read this from the juveniles over at the Charleston (WV) Gazette and laugh uproariously.

Either that or shake your head in disbelief:
If President Bush keeps his promise to veto the Child Health Insurance Program, which Congress expanded to cover 3.8 million more low-income youngsters, it will be one of the most heartless acts ever committed by a U.S. politician. His motto of “compassionate conservatism” will be derided with scorn.
"Low-income youngsters."
Whose parents earn as much as $83,000 per year.
Paid for by those who can least afford it - the cigarette-addicted poor.

A heartless act indeed.

We Think Along The Same Lines

Copyright laws prevent me from reproducing a cartoon that Chris OBrion of the Roanoke Times has posted to the online version of the paper but he has illustrated a point of view that I share.

View the cartoon here. (you'll need to click on the image to enlarge it)

Just a few weeks ago, I brought to your attention a story about the decision that was made by a high school principal over in Buena Vista to disarm the costumed school mascot, Yosemite Sam. His reasoning had something to do with a "zero tolerance policy toward guns." Including, presumably, the (incendiary) rubbery kind that a kid dressed up like a Disney character might carry on the football stadium sidelines during a game.

Though I can't reproduce his cartoon without his permission, I can quote the caption:


I laughed when I saw the cartoon because I had done that very thing (except for that hiring of an artist part). I had "photoshopped" Yosemite Sam for my post and came up with this:

Two brilliant minds think alike.

* My apologies to Chris. I don't get paid for cartooning. For obvious reasons.

Quote Of The Day

From the Washington Times:

On Thursday, the Senate voted 60 to 39 to end a filibuster against an amendment by Mr. Kennedy to give the Justice Department the responsibility for investigating crimes believed to have been motivated by sexual orientation that it has for racially or religiously motivated crimes. Forty-nine Democrats, two independents and nine Republicans provided the 60 votes (the minimum required) to end the filibuster. Mr. Kennedy, who observed that no president had ever vetoed a defense authorization bill, said the hate-crimes measure belonged on the bill dealing with terrorism overseas because hate crimes are a domestic form of terrorism.

The senator appears to think that the American people are idiots ...
"How they 'support the troops,'" October 1, 2007

With This Kind Of Opposition ...

... the Republican Party may end up trouncing the Democrats next year:

MoveOn ad raises cash for GOP
By Sean Lengell, The Washington Times

Capitol Hill Republicans are getting a much-needed fundraising boost from a newspaper advertisement in which the liberal group MoveOn.org accused Iraq war commander Gen. David H. Petraeus of lying, strategists say.

Republican candidates and party committees are frequently citing the ad in fundraising solicitations and campaign materials to attack Democratic opponents for not condemning the ad, which was published in the New York Times three weeks ago today. (link)

We're two-thirds of the way toward having The Perfect Storm in 2008. Hillary as the nominee. MoveOn.org as her mouthpiece.

Now, if the GOP could just come up with a decent candidate ...

The Puritans Among Us

In my youth I always wondered how America in the early twentieth century could have gotten so caught up in the temperance movement that it was decided to take the extreme step of passing the the 18th Amendment (Prohibition).

Now I know.

A hundred years later, the same prudes - the same prohibitionists - are at it again:
More Hollywood Studios Say ‘No Smoking’
By Michael Cieply, The New York Times

Under pressure from an antismoking lobby unsatisfied by a promise that the industry’s trade group made in May to consider tobacco use as a factor in film ratings, the six largest studio owners have been patching together individual responses to those who want cigarettes out of films rated G, PG or PG-13.

Smoking opponents view the result as surprising progress toward a virtual ban on tobacco images in all but films with R or NC-17 ratings.

“It’s a chilling idea,” said Bill Condon, who wrote and directed “Dreamgirls” for the DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures units of Viacom.

General Electric, the corporate parent of Universal Pictures, decided last April that, with few exceptions, “no smoking incidents should appear in any youth-rated film” produced by the studio or its sister units, Focus, Rogue and Working Title Films. (
Expect soon to be confronted with a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution:
"After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages tobacco and related products within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage ingestion purposes is hereby prohibited."
The more things change ...

An Unusual Critique Of Recent War Movies

From Jules Crittenden.

A quote:
Hollywood’s moralistic monkey has climbed back up on its shoulder with “Flags of Our Fathers,” an attempt to tell the story of Iwo Jima without telling the story of Iwo Jima, paradoxically attempting to underscore the heroism of Iwo by pointing out how it was used for propaganda purposes, in effect diminishing the heroism and sacrifice of the Marines at Iwo by reducing it to a propaganda exercise. That was followed quickly by an odd exercise in political correctness, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which through the eyes of that rarest of Japanese soldiers on Iwo … one that wanted to live … spins a tale of meaningless, futile sacrifice in war that, with its ennobling of the Japanese commander, paradoxically seeks meaning and exalts sacrifice in the futile effort to make futile sacrifice meaningful.
Read the whole thing.

An Authority On The Subject

Bill Clinton wades in to defend Hillary’s reputation

So Buy a Curlicue Lightbulb & Pass The Cocaine

The mentally challenged out in Hollywood are coming to grips with the fact that, when it comes to their heart-felt environmentalism (they allot time each day between their drug use and random fornication), they come across as hypocrites. Really?
Hollywood Sending Mixed Climate Messages
By Gary Gentile, AP Business Writer

No amount of public service announcements or celebrities driving hybrid cars can mask the fact that movie and TV production is a gritty industrial operation, consuming enormous amounts of power to feed bright lights, run sophisticated cameras, and feed a cast of thousands.

Studios' back lots host cavernous soundstages that must be air- conditioned to counter the heat produced by decades-old lighting technology. Huge manufacturing facilities consume wood, steel, paint and plastic to build sets that are often torn down and tossed out after filming ends.

A two-year study released last year by the University of California at Los Angeles concluded that special effects explosions, idling vehicles and diesel generators make the entertainment industry a major Southern California polluter, second only to the oil industry. (link)
So what have the socially conscious progressives in La La Land done in response?

"To symbolize its commitment to energy conservation, Fox had wanted to replace the traditional red carpet with a green one."

A green carpet. Earth saved.

Good God.

I'm Moving To Fairfax

Isn't this the same crowd that thinks we should provide health care assistance to the rich?

If, so, what's the big deal?
Some in Fairfax Public Housing Make Six Figures
By Amy Gardner, Washington Post Staff Writer

Hundreds of families living in housing subsidized by Fairfax County taxpayers exceed income caps designed to ensure that only the neediest receive assistance, a review of county records shows.

In the most extreme cases, Fairfax is underwriting rents for families making well into six figures: One household getting help makes more than $216,000 a year; another, $184,000. Dozens of others -- making $60,000, $70,000, $90,000 -- exceed eligibility caps. And they do so with the tacit approval of county housing administrators, who do little to encourage occupants to move on when their fortunes improve.

These tenants live in housing intended for families at the bottom of the county's economic spectrum. (link)
We may have the tendency to want to laugh at the nitwits up in Fairfax who have no problem with this. Or with subsidizing the doctor bills of the rich and famous. But then there's the next line:

"They are in the federally subsidized public housing program ..."

You and I are paying for the wealthiest among us to receive housing assistance.

For the love of God.

On Racists, Then & Now

As I read Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's words regarding racism, I was reminded of John Edwards's condescending remark from just the other day about black youth all ending up in prison or dead.

But Justice Thomas sees the hatred on the left going much deeper:
Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out
By Jan Crawford Greenburg, ABCNews.com

Thomas's most deeply felt opinions are about race, and he pulls no punches. For Thomas, the menacing racists who donned white sheets in the segregated South of his childhood are as bad or worse as the northern liberal zealots in suits and ties.

"These people who claim to be progressive … have been far more vicious to me than any southerner," Thomas says, "and it is purely ideological."

"People get bent out of shape about the fact that when I was a kid, you could not drink out of certain water fountains. Well, the water was the same. My grandfather always said that, 'The water's exactly the same.' But those same people are extremely comfortable saying I can't drink from this fountain of knowledge," Thomas says. "They certainly don't see themselves as being like the bigots in the South. Well, I've lived both experiences. And I really don't see that they're any different from them."

He says his critics — the people who question whether he is smart or qualified to be on the Court or who suggest he merely does what a white Supreme Court colleague dictates — are as also as bigoted as the whites of his childhood in the deep South. (link)
Justice Thomas could add modern-day slave traders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as targets. They go around the country telling black youth that they cannot succeed (so why even try ...) because of the racism that exists and is inherent to our collective nature. They do more damage than Jim Crow ever did.

Here's to Clarence Thomas. Statues will someday be erected in his honor for speaking truth to power. And for standing strong against the tide of contemporary progressive hatred.