The tourists are back: NC sees spending reach 99% of pre-pandemic level

N.C. Highway 12, also known as the Outer Banks Scenic Byway [ photo]

The North Carolina tourism industry saw $28.9 billion in visitor spending last year – a major boom to the state following losses sustained due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the governor’s office.

The total amount of money spent last year was a 45 percent increase from 2020 and just 1 percent short of total tourism dollars spent in the state in 2019, according to preliminary findings from Tourism Economics. Visit North Carolina commissioned the study.

“We know visitor spending helps fuel our economy in all 100 counties by sustaining local businesses, supporting thousands of jobs and bringing in tax revenue and that’s why we’ve been working to encourage tourism,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “After being hit hard in 2020, tourism has bounced back as people around the world are again getting to see and experience the greatest state in the country.”

The announcement comes during National Travel and Tourism Week, which runs May 1-7.

Tourism-supported jobs also saw an increase of 10.5 percent in 2021. That total – 197,500 – is an increase from 2020 where the industry saw a 26 percent dip in tourism-related employment.

Tourism payroll also increased by 19 percent to $7.7 billion.

Visitor spending helped state and local governments collect tax revenues of $2.3 billion.

Research also showed that domestic visitor spending has fully recovered in North Carolina, despite lagging international spending.

“We’re encouraged by the report on the recovery of our tourism industry, which is essential to the state’s economic well-being,” said North Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “More than 45,000 small businesses across North Carolina rely on what visitors spend – on everything from lodging and dining to transportation, recreation and retail.”

As a result of travelers’ contributions to state and local tax revenue, North Carolina households averaged about $580 in yearly savings, Sanders said.