New Hanover County sets benchmark year in tourist spending

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Atlantic sunrise at Carolina Beach
Atlantic sunrise at Carolina Beach. Photo Courtesy of Bill Russ ― VisitNC.com

As tourism season begins to fade, New Hanover County officials turn their attention to the economic impact reports from the summer tourism season, which according to the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority created benchmark profits for the county.

Last week, representatives from the local tourism industry, Frank Jones, Tourism Development Authority (TDA) Chairman and Kim Hufham, Chief Executive Officer of Wilmington and Beaches Convention Visitors Bureau presented an annual report to county commissioners. The report, compiled by VisitNC, stated in 2014 the economic impact from domestic travel in New Hanover County was estimated at $507.9 million, representing a 6 percent increase since 2013— the highest ever in the county.

New Hanover maintains its rank as eighth among North Carolina’s 100 counties in tourist expenditures, and the second among coastal communities, with Dare County coming in first.

“We’re excited to present to you that [fiscal year 2014-2015] was a benchmark year for us, with tourism also generating $43.93 million during the fiscal year in state and local tax revenue with Room Occupancy Taxes (ROT) equaling just over $10 million,” said Jones. “Travel and tourism in the county generated state and local tax revenues that saved each New Hanover County resident an estimated $202.45.”

According to Jones, the $10 million in ROT is about a nine percent increase from the previous fiscal year, and it will be the first time the county has ever reached the $10 million mark in ROT revenues. TDA officials expect the amount to continue to increase as the online home and bedroom rental service Airbnb began collecting and remitting ROT this past August.

“I have adopted the mindset that whenever I see an out-of state license tag I’m so happy because it really shows all the great things you’re [the TDA] doing to promote travel here in our community,” said County Commissioner Chairman Jonathan Barfield Jr. “I think it also shows that our economy is rebounding as well.”

According to the TDA, while in-state travelers account for highest amount of tourism to the area, most out-of-state visitors are coming from Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina—with Tennessee, New York and Ohio not very far behind. The increase of visitors to New Hanover County could be due to the rise of the “hyper-connected traveler,” or a tourist who makes a decision to travel more spontaneously due to their constant connectivity to the web.

According to Connie Nelson, communications and public relations director for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, this nonstop connection to the internet through mobile devices enables a traveler to easily find a deal in a hotel they like, or remember their favorite restaurant by the waterfront and instantly make the decision to leave for the weekend.

Nelson believes the attraction for the hyper connected traveler to come back to New Hanover County comes from many factors. “It’s the weather, the economy, the switch from print marketing to digital and social media marketing… it’s really hard to pinpoint one thing that makes someone come back and visit, said Nelson. “But I think it really has a lot to do with our local partners here who continue to offer fresh products and accommodations—it’s always a consistent communal effort that makes the greatest impression, and that really resonates with our visitors and continues to attract these hyper-connected travelers.”

According to the study, in 2014 travel and tourism in New Hanover County directly provided more than 5,680 full-time and part-time jobs and supported a payroll of $113.27 million.

“When tourism revenues are up it not only means more jobs and a better quality of life for our local citizens, it also means more money to fund beach renourishment, the Wilmington Convention Center and other tourism-related projects,” said Hufham.

According to Hufham, 57 percent of the revenue from ROT will go toward the beach renournishment and the Wilmington Convention Center. Beach efforts will receive $2.7 million and the convention center just over $3 million.

Related Story: 

New Hanover County may need to fund Wrightsville, Carolina Beach sand projects

See the economic impact presentation to the county commissioners by clicking here.

James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at james.m@portcitydaily.com On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD