NEW HANOVER COUNTY — While an unprecedented amount of rainfall this summer has not slowed the county’s hotel revenue for the month of June, there are signs that July could yield weaker numbers. The rain hit other beach businesses harder.
New Hanover County’s Room Occupancy Tax figures – a key measure of the tourism industry in the Wilmington area – increased by 8.3% in June from the same month in 2017. Although July figures will be unavailable until mid-September, president of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority Kim Hufham does not expect a significant drop-off. For the most part, she said, tourists who book hotels and beach homes do so months in advance, and will not cancel because of forecasted rain.
She also said that rain can push tourists from the beach towards other attractions, like the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which reported attendance for June approximately 7 percent higher than June of 2017, and attendance for July 12 percent higher.
The Tourism Development Authority (TDA) Visitor Center traffic has been strong for both months, according to Hufham, and the TDA has not heard of a significant falloff of tourism-related activities.
Hufham did express concern, however, over national trends that show a softening for the month of July, which has historically been the county’s busiest month. She also said that rainy weather tends to have a stronger impact on in-state travelers, who make decisions “more last minute, contingent upon the weather,” and whose cancellations do not strongly affect hotel revenue numbers because many are day travelers.
According to National Weather Service data, July was a significantly wetter month than June – rainfall was 9.62 inches above average, compared to only 3.23 inches above average in June – and finished with twelve consecutive days of rain.
“Some local hoteliers have reported that July was soft compared to last year, citing rain and July 4th falling midweek as the most likely reasons,” said Hufham.
The wet July also affected businesses in Wrightsville Beach.
When asked if Wrightsville Beach bar Jimmy’s was affected by heavy rainfall in July, manager Nic Metcalfe said, “it killed us.”
Metcalfe added, “We live in our little bubble here, and the rain usually stays away. But as soon as (tourists) see on the news that rain’s heading this way, the beach turns into a ghost town.”
For Lydia Chandler, manager of Sweetwater Surf Shop across the street from Jimmy’s, the rainy summer’s impact was more difficult to discern.
“July was definitely not a typical summer month for us. We were still busy – we’re lucky enough with our location where we have a lot of foot traffic, and people who already have vacations planned come into town (regardless of rain) … But it did impact foot traffic: when it’s raining, the last thing you want to do is leave your house and get out in the middle of it.”