Outer Banks tourism numbers reflect Dare County’s resilience during the pandemic

Frisco beach in October. [Joy Crist/Island Free Press photo]

The tourism impact of COVID-10 was felt dramatically throughout the state in 2020, as reflected by a recent study measuring tourism in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

In a year that saw a 31.7% drop in statewide tourism spending, the resourcefulness and resilience of Dare County businesses stemmed the tide, posting a modest 2.2% decline – an especially impressive feat considering the destination’s closure to visitors during two months of spring.

According to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, VisitNC commissions the study annually. A new, more comprehensive methodology was introduced this year, which calculated Dare’s total tourism spending to be $1.4 billion.

This figure ranks Dare as the fourth largest tourism destination in North Carolina. The three destinations ranked ahead of Dare posted 2020 declines of 51.0%, 42.6% and 34.9%, respectively.

“It was one of the most challenging years we’ve ever faced on the Outer Banks,” explains Lee Nettles, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “For our local tourism industry to accomplish what it did, despite the closure, state-mandated capacity limits, and the operational changes forced by a global pandemic is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a tribute to the popularity of the Outer Banks and a testament to the hard work and ingenuity of our local tourism partners.”

The study also reported 11,803 tourism-related jobs in Dare, which is nearly a third of the county’s population. Local tourism and visitor spending generated $123 million in state and local tax revenue.

These statistics come from the “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2020,” which can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies.

The study was prepared by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association. According to the report summary, state tourism spending in 2020 was $19.96 billion. North Carolina is the nation’s number 5 most visited state.

Study highlights include:

• Domestic and international travelers spent $19.96 billion in North Carolina in 2020. The spending marks a 32 percent decrease from the $29.22 billion spent in 2019.

• Fourteen of the state’s 100 counties saw gains in visitor spending: Warren, Greene, Yancey, Clay, Stokes, Polk, Northampton, Pender, Ashe, Alleghany, Rutherford, Jones, Currituck, and Tyrrell.

• Visitors to North Carolina generated nearly $3.0 billion in federal, state, and local taxes in 2020. The total represents a 26.6 percent decrease from 2019.

• State tax receipts because of domestic visitor spending decreased 26.4 percent to more than $891.6 million in 2020.

• Local tax receipts from domestic visitor spending dropped 21 percent to $906.4 million.

• Direct tourism employment in North Carolina decreased 26 percent to 178,685.

• Twenty counties had increases in employment related to visitor spending in 2020: Warren, Greene, Clay, Stokes, Ashe, Yancey, Alleghany, Pender, Macon, Northampton, Jones, Polk, Rutherford, Montgomery, Tyrrell, Dare, Carteret, Madison, Currituck, and Swain.

• Direct tourism payroll decreased 24.5 percent to $6.4 billion.

• Visitors spend more than $54 million per day in North Carolina. That spending adds $4.9 million per day to state and local tax revenues (about $2.4 million in state taxes and $2.5 million in local taxes).

• Each North Carolina resident saves on average $170 in state and local taxes as a direct result of visitor spending in the state.

• North Carolina hosted 37 million visitors in 2020.