Tourism-friendly: Visitors spend $335M in 2017
By William F. West
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Tourists spent a whopping $335 million in six Albemarle area counties in 2017, with every county reporting an increase in visitor spending from the previous year.
While the bulk of that spending — $230.86 million — was in Currituck County, whose Outer Banks attract thousands of beach-goers every summer, other area counties also reported significant visitor spending last year.
According to data from the N.C. Department of Commerce, Pasquotank reported tourism spending of $62.66 million in 2017, nearly five-tenths of a percent increase compared to 2016. Other counties saw much larger increases.
In Chowan County, for example, where visitors spent $22.17 million, the increase was 4.13 percent from 2016. In neighboring Perquimans County, tourism spending totaled $10.86 million, a 4.40 percent increase.
Gates County, meanwhile, reported $6.47 million in tourism spending, a 3.94 percent increase, while in Camden County, visitors spent $2.09 million, a 4.18 percent increase.
Andy Montero, an Elizabeth City restaurateur who serves on the Pasquotank County Tourism Development Authority, cited several factors in Pasquotank’s increase in tourism spending in 2017. One factor was the many construction projects — the Amazon Wind Farm US East, the SunEnergy1 solar farm, the Tanglewood Pavilions shopping center and the Stockbridge subdivision — that brought workers for motel and hotel stays in 2017.
Another factor is Elizabeth City’s proximity to the Outer Banks and local efforts to market that fact to beach-bound vacationers.
During the summer, particularly on so-called “changeover days,” when one group of cottage renters are moving out and another are moving in, beach-bound traffic on U.S. Highway 158 backs up in Dare County and Lower Currituck.
To avoid long waits in traffic, vacationers are now checking into motels in either Elizabeth City or Virginia a day in advance of when they beach stay begins. Montero says many are increasingly choosing to stay in Elizabeth City.
"I think they're finding comparable, if not better, accommodations, if not better pricing," he said. "Also, they are in North Carolina. And mentally that's a huge hurdle when you're going on vacation — to get in the state that you'll reside for the next week."
Montero said a few vacationers have told him they’ll even arrive as early as Thursday because they want to tour Elizabeth City and some of the Inner Banks communities before heading on to the beach.
"They know that travel on a Thursday is going to be lighter than a Friday, Friday travel during the day is going to be lighter than a Saturday. So, people are starting to really lean toward their convenience," he said.
In Camden County, Dismal Swamp Visitor's Center Director Donna Stewart said she’s seen an uptick in the number of boaters stopping at the center since the Corps of Engineers reopened the Dismal Swamp Canal to boating traffic in October 2017. The canal was closed to remove downed trees and to dredge filled-in areas following Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Stewart didn't immediately have visitation numbers at the welcome center, but said the facility was busy this summer.
"A lot of traffic that comes through this facility is either going to the Outer Banks or following (U.S.) 17 down south or a lot of people are going to the Crystal Coast," she said.
Although the visitor’s center is located in the far northern end of Camden, every footprint of tourist traffic elsewhere in the county has the ability to help restaurants and marinas, Stewart said.
In Currituck, Travel and Tourism Director Tameron Kugler cited "wonderful promotions" for Currituck’s 2.77 percent increase in tourism spending last year. Currituck Travel and Tourism's website features videos of wild horses, people at the beach, a duck hunter with a duck caller, and people fishing, JetSkiing and kayaking. It even include video of couples getting married at the county’s tourism jewel: the Whalehead Club in Corolla.
"We have got everything here, " Kugler said.
She said most of Currituck’s visitors come from either North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio or other states in the Northeast.
Currituck has benefited from the use of digital advertising and email marketing to reach potential vacationers. The county’s attractions are also being advertised on television in a number of northern markets, including in Philadelphia.
"We try to get a good bang for our buck for our television advertising," Kugler said.
Edenton Town Manager Anne-Marie Knighton said she was happy to see the increase in Chowan. She credited Chowan Tourism Director Nancy Nichols, the Chowan Tourism Development Authority and the tourism development authorities across the region.
"We all benefit from the wonderful assets and sharing our assets and welcoming the visitors to our communities," she said.