Room Occupancy Tax Number 'a Bit Surprising' That It Wasn't Worse

By Cece Nunn, posted Feb 16, 2021
Wilmington's outdoor activities, from the beach to the Riverwalk in downtown Wilmington, help draw tourists even during a pandemic, tourism officials said Tuesday. (File photo)

The room occupancy tax total in New Hanover County fell 14.5% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to local tourism officials.

That’s a decrease from about $15.5 million in 2019 to $13.2 million last year.

Accommodations in New Hanover County, including hotels, motels, inns, room rentals, tourist camps or other short-term rentals, are subject to the county's 6% ROT rate.

“Experiencing a decline in room occupancy tax during a pandemic is not a surprise due to phased travel restrictions and gathering limitations that have been in place since March,” said Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, in an email. “It is actually a bit surprising that the decline in ROT was not greater.

"On the coast, we have an advantage of being perceived as being safer than urban destinations because of our beaches and outdoor parks, gardens, Riverwalk and outdoor dining options.”

Those in the industry remain optimistic about 2021.

“Things are still slow but I’m seeing some positive indicators in the market that things are starting to ramp up,” said Zach Brigman, general manager of Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront, on Tuesday. 

The holiday weekend seemed to help rather than hurt area hotels.

“I think the general consensus last weekend for Valentine’s Day was that it was a surprise that everyone was as busy as they were with the rainy weather. It was almost like there was not a pandemic,” said Leigh Anne Mikulski, director of sales at Holiday Inn Express Leland-Wilmington Area. “I think for Valentine’s Day, people just were stir crazy and wanted to get out and celebrate.”

The Embassy Suites in downtown Wilmington also experienced a bit of a bump this past weekend.

“Valentine’s Day was strong for us, very much so,” Brigman said. “Both our restaurant and hotel saw some good business from Valentine’s Day weekend.”

Hufham said it’s too soon to know for sure but believes that "recovery is on the horizon as vaccinations become more available and as more groups become eligible for the vaccine. We are encouraged by Destination Analysts’ research that travel sentiment is finally improving. 

“By summer we hope that people will feel comfortable enough to travel. We are also hopeful that by fall gathering restrictions may ease somewhat to allow for some meetings and events to resume.”

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