Study: National parks visitors spent $203.1 million on the Outer Banks in 2018

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore was established as the first national seashore in 1953. [Sam Walker photo]

A new National Park Service report shows that 3,212,924 visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Wright Brothers National Memorial in 2018 spent $203.1 million in communities near the parks.

That spending supported 2,947 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $255.4 million. Visitation at Cape Hatteras National Seashore was 2,591,056–the highest in 15 years.

“Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and Wright Brothers National Memorial welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Superintendent David Hallac. “We are delighted to share the story of these places and the experiences they provide. National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and teamwork with local businesses and the community.”

Economic impact figures for each Outer Banks national park site:

  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 2,591,056 visitors spent $166,369,000, resulting in 2,397 jobs and a cumulative benefit to the state economy of $208,362,000.
  • Fort Raleigh National Historic Site: 261,199 visitors spent $15,425,000, resulting in 231 jobs and a cumulative benefit to the state economy of $19,669,000.
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial: 360,669 visitors spent $21,298,000, resulting in 319 jobs and a cumulative benefit to the state economy of $27,417,000.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Egan Cornachione of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The report shows $20.2 billion of direct spending by more than 318 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 329,000 jobs nationally; 268,000 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $40.1 billion.

Lodging expenses account for the largest share of visitor spending, about $6.8 billion in 2018. Food expenses are the second largest spending area and visitors spent $4 billion in restaurants and bars and another $1.4 billion at grocery and convenience stores.

Visitor spending on lodging supported more than 58,000 jobs and more than 61,000 jobs in restaurants. Visitor spending in the recreation industries supported more than 28,000 jobs and spending in retail supported more than 20,000 jobs.

[National Park Service infographic]
Report authors also produce an interactive tool that enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. The interactive tool and report are available at the NPS Social Science Program webpage:

To learn more about national parks in North Carolina and how the National Park Service works with North Carolina communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to