From the Asheville Citizen-Times:
[ASU Biology Professor Howie] Neufeld also is known as the unofficial “fall color guy” [*] for the color predictions he provides to visitnc.com, North Carolina’s online tourist hub.
His interest in fall foliage led him to search out the economic impact of WNC’s big season.
“I couldn’t find anything,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been a systematic study.”
So using studies and estimates from similar established destinations such as New England, Neufeld reached his own conclusion — the fall season adds up to a $1 billion economic impact in the mountains of North Carolina.
Likely visitors are baby boomers and families living within a couple hundred miles of the region, according to Neufeld’s ballpark calculations.
A family of four staying in the mountains for two nights could spend $400 to $1,000 on gas, food and lodging, Neufeld estimated.
There are no counts of just how many visitors come each year, according to Neufeld, but judging by the number of tourists states such as New Hampshire and Maine attract — 16 million last year — the mountains of North Carolina could see similar numbers.
“I think it’s time for someone to conduct a study to show just what the impact is,” Neufeld said.
In the absence of a real study, Mike Evans, ASU hospitality and tourism professor, and I exchanged emails with Howie. Mike says:
Our "research" numbers suggest 1... maybe 2 million people may visit Western North Carolina to see fall foliage.
So I said:
I'd go with Mike's 1-2 million visitors, divide by 2.5 for household size and then multiply by your $400 to $1000 in spending per visit. That would give a range of $160 million (1m/2.5 * 400) to $800 million (2m/2.5 * 1000). The midpoint is then $480 million.
Just for fun, I plugged these ranges into Excel and took 1000 random draws from two uniform distributions. The mean impact and standard deviation are $419 million and $129 million. The 95% confidence interval is [$210, $699] million. And here is the graph of the distribution:
[*] Here is the link for the Fall Color Guy blog: http://fallcolorguy.blogspot.com/