New Hanover County's tourism industry is growing and the numbers show it.
The amount collected during the first year of room occupancy tax collection in New Hanover County, 1986, was a little over $550,000. Recent totals show how much the industry has grown, with more than $12 million collected last year.
The figures were presented by Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, during the fifth annual Travel Rally Breakfast at the Wilmington Convention Center on Friday.
The annual breakfast coincides with this year's National Travel and Tourism Week, which is a celebration of the national tourism community and its value to the economy. This year's theme for National Travel & Tourism Week, during May 6-12, is "Travel Then and Now" and was the reason for taking a look back at where those numbers were and where they stand today, Hufham said.
Back in 1990, the economic impact of tourism in New Hanover County was just over $153 million, she said. Whereas in 2016, tourism expenditures soared to $553 million. That year, the local industry generated nearly $50 million in state and local taxes, and employed more than 6,150 people in travel-and-tourism-related jobs, and resulting in nearly $130 million in payroll.
For this fiscal year alone, as of March, New Hanover County is up by 3.09 percent in its room occupancy tax collections.
"We continue on a positive note. We're really glad to see that these numbers are continuing to be strong," Hufham said.
In taking another look back on the local industry, members of the area’s tourism industry also celebrated and reflected on the achievements of the area's tourism pioneers, including Bob Jenkins with Wilmington Adventure Walking Tours, Carl Marshburn of Cape Fear Riverboats and John and Janet Pucci with Springbrook Farms. And in the now, Hufham also recognized Annalee Berry, general manager of Surf House and partner in Coastal South Hospitality Group LLC, which opened the Southerly Buiscut & Pie, with its 2018 Tourism Star Award.
Hufham also touted the area as a prime destination for both national and international travel with the area's recent standing as 2018 TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice, "Top Destination on the Rise."
To keep the tourists coming, Donald Barnes, associate professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, offered insight to members of the local tourism and business community on customer satisfaction versus customer delight, during his keynote speech at the breakfast.
This, he said, matters for the tourism industry in that delight serves as a positive experience that ignites an emotional response from the customer. Satisfaction, he said, is more cognitive. When a customer experience is based on emotion, the customers become lifetime customers and tend to share those experiences more with others, he said.
"There are multiple ways to delight a customer, so every industry, every hotel, every institution, there are lots of ways to do this," he said.
A personal example Barnes gave was his choice in the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) for his flights, which he said attracts him and other customers through what he described as a delightful experience in the airport. He said that's the reason he will pay more for flights at ILM rather than to travel to nearby airports for less expensive flights.
"It's a great business model because customers are not making thinking decisions; it's emotional decisions. And when you are making emotional decisions you can charge whatever you want," Barnes said.
The two emotions that companies can really target is gratitude and joy, he said.
"Customer delight is not necessarily a universal strategy ... but if you can segment your market and you can identify profitable customers, it's a very very profitable strategy," Barnes said.