Saturday, October 1, 2022

Tourists bring $930M into NHC in 2021, a 55% increase over pandemic year

Phillip Murray, who sat with the group pictured in center, said he drove from Raleigh to Carolina Beach even though family and friends had expressed concern. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Tourists that flock to area beaches helped rank New Hanover County seventh in the state for visitor spending in 2021. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — Ranking seventh across the state in visitor spending, New Hanover County’s numbers for 2021 have exceeded a record-breaking 2019 and are up by over half from 2020. 

The information generated in a study commissioned by the Visit North Carolina by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2021” tracks financial development in all 100 counties in North Carolina — 14 of which experienced increases last year. 

New Hanover County set new benchmarks, according to Kim Hufham, CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority. Three years ago the county tracked $658.78 in total spending, a 41% increase from 2018. 2021 recorded a 55.6% increase from 2020, bringing in $930.40 million.

The numbers show growth in New Hanover County employment — 6,142 in 2021, up from 5,455 in 2020. It equaled $246.5 million in tourist-industry-based payroll.

“The significant increase in 2021 visitor spending can be partly attributed to the willingness of our travel partners to support a unified recovery campaign,” Hufham said in a press release. 

“Fall is the New Summer” launched in Wilmington and New Hanover County’s area beaches in 2020. Industry research noted people were waiting until fall to travel as Covid numbers spiked during summer. The campaign won the Tourism Marketing Achievement Gold Award in Leisure Marketing for 2020-2021, presented by the N.C. Travel Industry Association.

Its impact carried into 2021, as visitors spent 41.23% more than in 2020. Around $211 million was spent on lodging, over $311 million on food and beverage, almost $120 million on recreation, $77 million on retail and $211 million on transportation, the report shows.

“Our united approach helped yield an increase of 59.53 percent in countywide room occupancy tax collections for calendar year 2021, which totaled more than $21 million dollars and outperformed the previous room tax record of $15.52 million set in 2019,” Hufham said in the release.     

Over $34.5 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income were generated in the county. About $38.3 million came from sales and property tax revenues from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses. 

According to Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, it offset the tax burden on county residents by an estimated $319.28 each. 

Money generated by tourist dollars in New Hanover helps with job creation, as well as programs and amenities the community benefits from as a whole, such as funding beach renourishment and the Wilmington Convention Center. 

“It has been a challenging yet rewarding road to recovery that could not have been achieved without our amazing visitors and the resiliency, perseverance and partnership of New Hanover County tourism stakeholders and businesses, and the support of our residents,” Hufham said in the release.

Brunswick County ranked sixth in visitor spending, culling $975.11 million, a 33.4% growth rate over 2020. Pender also had increased tourism spending by 24.5%, bringing in $165.29 million.

While last year North Carolina overall rebounded in visitor spending by almost 45%, numbers fell statewide just shy of 2019’s record-setter, $29.22 billion; 2021 was $28.9 billion. Tourism employment increased across the state by 10.5% to 197,500 people.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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