Proving just how busy 2021 was on the Outer Banks, the recovery in visitor spending was also felt statewide in 2021 according to data released Wednesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce.
Dare County generated the fourth most spending of any county in North Carolina in 2021 of $1.826 billion, behind only Mecklenburg (Charlotte) Buncombe (Asheville) and Wake (Raleigh), an increase of 29.6 percent from the previous year. Dare also had the fifth highest percentage (6.3 percent) of visitor spending in the state.
The biggest portion of visitor spending in Dare County last year was in the food and beverage sector of $573.65 million, followed by lodging ($464.45 million), transport ($346.06 million), recreation ($268.38 million) and retail ($174.11).
“Outer Banks tourism continues to be a strong and reliable economic engine for our community,” said Outer Banks Visitor Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles. “The latest rankings are a credit to the hard work of our local industry and a reminder of how tourism helps to support our county.”
A total of 12,295 jobs are backed by the visitor economy in Dare County, generating $453.9 million in labor income. Visitor spending also generated $67.6 million in state taxes, $79.2 million in local taxes.
“That’s tax relief of $3,930 per Dare County resident, which far and away leads the state,” according to Nettles.
Currituck County saw $473.17 million in total visitor spending in 2021, up 26 percent from 2020. $147.45 million was spent on food and beverage, $117.95 million on lodging, $93.37 million on transport, $69.88 million on recreation, and $44.52 million on retail.
2,379 jobs and $100 million in labor income are generated by visitor spending in Currituck, along with $15.3 million in state taxes, $21.5 million in local taxes, and a tax savings per resident of $1,257.58.
“We’re very pleased with the numbers, and a 26 percent increase is amazing,” said Tameron Kugler, director of the Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism.
“The thing that is most telling about our numbers is the amount of first-time visitors to Corolla last year,” Kugler said. “We were seen as a safe haven as a ‘drive-to’ market, going to private homes for the most part, and visitors felt that was a safer-way to vacation. That probably drove our visitation more than anything else.”
“Also most pleasing is the economic impact from our visitors that benefits our resident in the form of tax relief,” Kugler said. “We know it can be a challenge in the summer, but the benefits visitors bring to our residents puts more money in their pockets.”
In Pasquotank County (Elizabeth City), total visitor spending was $82.36 million in 2021, up 46.5 percent. $29.77 million was in the food and beverage sector, $18.86 million lodging, $16.21 million transport, $9.71 million recreation and $7.8 million retail.
Visitors to Pasquotank created 506 jobs and $16.6 million labor income, $3.5 million in state taxes, $2.6 million in local taxes, and $149.39 of tax savings per resident.
“After last year’s decrease due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, we are thrilled to return to our decade-long, record-breaking, year-over-year growth in visitor spending,” said Corrina Ruffieux, Executive Director of Visit Elizabeth City.
“We hope to build on this momentum as we highlight our county and city’s innovative entrepreneurship, our thriving cultural and cuisine-related offerings, destination one-of-a-kind events, and our community’s enthusiastic Harbor of Hospitality® spirit experienced by visitors near and far,” Ruffieux said.
Visitor spending in Hyde County, which includes Ocracoke, grew by 41.2 percent last year to $53.18 million. Food and beverage generated $17.94 million, followed by lodging ($12.6 million), transport ($9.79 million), recreation ($7.7 million) and retail ($5.14 million).
Hyde County has 350 jobs supported by visitors, with labor income of $12.9 million. $1.9 million in state and $2.6 million in local taxes were created, translating to a savings of $1,008.41 per resident.
Gates County had the state’s biggest increase in visitor spending between 2020 and 2021 of 83 percent to $9.35 million.
The preliminary findings from an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, reflect the economic impact of tourism on local economies across the state.
“The strong economic results for one of our most vital industries speak to the resilience of our local tourism partners and to the state’s enduring appeal,” said North Carolina Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “We celebrate the qualities that make North Carolina an attractive destination and are inspired by the people who provide visitors to our state an outstanding travel experience.”
The visitor spending study, commissioned by Visit NC and conducted by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association, provides preliminary estimates of domestic and international traveler expenditures as well as employment, payroll income, and state and local tax revenues directly generated by these expenditures. The statistical model draws on detailed data from Visit NC as well as data derived from federal and state government sources, nationally known private and non-profit travel organizations, and other travel industry sources.
Key findings from the study:
- Great recovery was seen statewide compared to 2020 with visitor spending across the state up 45 percent. Each of the state’s 100 counties experienced increases in spending from 2020 to 2021.
- Mecklenburg County received $4.1 billion (plus 46 percent) in traveler expenditures to lead all 100 counties. For the first time, Buncombe County ranked second with $2.6 billion (plus 81 percent), followed by Wake County with $2.3 billion (plus 40 percent), Dare County with $1.8 billion (plus 30 percent) and Guilford County with $1.3 billion (plus 52 percent) in visitor spending.
- Top percentage spending increases from 2020 were Gates County (plus 83 percent), Buncombe County (plus 81 percent), Beaufort County (plus 71 percent), Moore County (plus 70 percent) and Alexander County (plus 68 percent).
- Seventy-five counties had 2021 spending that topped 2019’s record sums. Four of these counties had spending up 50 percent or more from two years ago: Warren County (plus 68 percent), Stokes County (plus 66 percent), Madison County (plus 59 percent) and Alexander County (plus 57 percent).
- Mecklenburg County had the largest number of direct tourism employees (28,438), an increase of nearly 6 percent from 2020. Three other counties had more than 10,000 direct tourism employees: Wake (21,357, plus 23 percent), Buncombe (18,278, plus 31 percent) and Dare (12,295, plus 4 percent).
- Top counties for percentage increases in tourism employment were Buncombe (plus 31 percent), Gates (plus 25 percent), Wake (plus 23 percent), Cabarrus (plus 21 percent) and Alexander (plus 20 percent).
As previously reported, domestic travel statewide reached new heights in 2021, though international visitation lagged. The spending total of $28.9 billion fell about 1 percent below the record set in 2019. The sum represents a 45 percent increase from pandemic-stricken 2020.
“Just as we’re gratified by the achievement statewide in 2021, the county-level report underscores the value of each destination,” said Wit Tuttell, director of Visit NC. “This is where travelers experience the state, from its natural beauty to the character of our people. It’s also the heart of the economic impact, the sustenance for thousands of businesses and local governments. We look forward to raising the arc even higher as we welcome more people to places they won’t find anywhere else.”
Full tables can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies.