July 29, 2005

An ePilot clipping for you

:The Virginian-Pilot; :Jul 29, 2005; :North Carolina; :29


Tourists’ dollars filling our coffers

Dare County keeps its top spot in the region, but its growth is slowing


Great beaches and gorgeous mountains have served North Carolina well in the leisure travel business, with the state showing a 4.9 percent increase in tourism revenue in 2004.

Dare County was the fourth-highest earner of tourism dollars of the state’s 100 counties, pulling in $619.14 million for the year, according to figures released Wednesday by the state Department of Commerce.

Overall, 97 counties reflected some growth, with five showing doubledigit increases. Tourism in 2004 poured a total of $13.25 billion into the state’s coffers.

The state’s metropolitan areas continued to pull in the big money, but doubledigit gains came in the southern coastal counties of Brunswick and Onslow. Cherokee County in the Great Smoky Mountains and Yadkin County in the North Carolina foothills also saw double-digit increases as did Iredell County not far from Charlotte.
While Dare County has kept its top slot in the northeast region in tourism revenue, its percentage of growth – 3.6 percent – has been flattening compared with some of its neighbors.

Chowan County and Edenton, for instance, brought in 9.4 percent more than the previous year, with visitors spending almost $15.4 million in 2004. Camden County made 4.5 percent more, with $1.45 million.

Even remote Tyrrell County and Columbia grew 5.2 percent, earning $3.16 million.

The new growth in tourism revenue in the northeast is reflective of the overall popularity of heritage tourism and the promotion of attractions such as the Civil War Trail, said Christine Mackey, the department’s director of tourism.

Visitors who come to the beach, she said, are more frequently taking side trips to places with historic or natural attractions.

“I think that really does benefit counties that are more rural than Dare County,” she said.

But Mackey said the increased revenue can also be explained by increases in costs overall, and the fact that a little more can seem like a lot when you’re compared with a tourism behemoth such as Dare.

“It doesn’t take very much to see a bigger increase in some of those smaller counties,” she said. “So it takes more to move the needle in Dare County.”

Dare County has seen mostly double-digit growth from the late ’90s until it began slowing down in recent years, said Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Tourism Bureau. When tourism lagged in cities after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Outer Banks experienced a surge in visitation.

But now that city vacations are starting to rebound, she said, some of the tourist traffic to the beach has lessened. And there is also the reality that the Outer Banks infrastructure “can only handle so much,” McCormick said.

There are differing opinions about the indicators of when – or if – the Outer Banks has reached the tipping point in visitation, she said. But it’s clear that the incredible growth of recent years is beginning to level off.

“We’re hitting a little bit of a plateau,” she said. “The big thing is, we need to collectively sustain our summer. And if we want to, we can still have great opportunities to grow our off-season.”


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