Brunswick Rides Wave Of Tourism Boost

By Miriah Hamrick, posted Mar 17, 2023
The quiet, family-friendly nature of Brunswick County’s six island beaches served as a boon for pandemic-era visitors, allowing Brunswick’s visitor spending to eclipse New Hanover in the two most recent annual tallies (PHOTO C/O North Carolina’s Brunswick)
This spring, new TV advertisements for Brunswick County’s island beaches will run in markets across the mid-Atlantic region, including cities as far away as Philadelphia.

It’s the first time the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority’s TV marketing efforts have cast such a wide net, a move enabled by an influx of funds over the past couple of years of record-high visitor spending in the county. 

“The past two fiscal years being strong, we were able to generate revenues that allowed us to have those TV campaigns that in prior years we wouldn’t be able to afford,” said Mitzi York, executive director of the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority. 

Brunswick’s tourism figures for 2020 and 2021 were so strong that they eclipsed visitor spending in New Hanover, typically the highest in the tri-county region, according to an annual Visit North Carolina report that draws from a variety of data to calculate the money spent on food, lodging, recreation, retail and transportation in each of the state’s counties.

The yearslong boost might have been the product of unique conditions from the pandemic, York noted. In recognition of public sentiment in the early days of lockdowns and isolation, Brunswick County amended its marketing materials to emphasize the quiet, private nature of the county’s six island beaches, which York described as less crowded and developed than some of its peers along the East Coast. 

“That helped us during the pandemic. People were looking for places that they felt safe in,” she said. 

York believes this quick pivot helped the county bring in more visitors during the height of pandemic-era restrictions, a time when destinations with more population density were seeing declines in visitor numbers. 

“During the pandemic, I think some destinations weren’t marketing as much in recognition of where people’s mindsets were,” she said. 

Even outside the conditions of a global health crisis, the quiet, family-friendly nature of the county’s beaches is a selling point emphasized in the tourism authority’s marketing efforts. While all six of Brunswick’s island beaches share those characteristics, York noted that each one also has special attributes to lure in visitors. 

Oak Island is the largest, she noted, with more restaurants and shops to peruse, while Holden Beach is quiet with no hotel on the island. Sunset Beach’s Kindred Spirit mailbox draws fans of the Nicholas Sparks novel “Every Breath.”  

“Each beach is unique, and people like a beach because it fits what they’re looking for,” York said. “We have a lot of repeat visitors who come back year after year.” 

Brunswick County has also felt less impact from the slow rebound of business and conference travel compared to other counties, York said. Without a major convention center, the county is not able to boost off-season performance with the kind of group travels a convention facility can attract.

Now that travel conditions are returning to normal, York said she’s not sure whether Brunswick will once again surpass New Hanover’s visitor spending when the 2022 report is released later this year. The tourism authority’s tally shows solid performance in 2022 with one key difference from 2021 and 2020: fewer visitors in the off-season months outside the peak travel period between Memorial Day and Labor Day. 

She also noted that people are now more comfortable with trips to major cities and other types of travel that involve exposure to crowds, such as amusement parks or cruises.

“It’s going to be a lot more competitive in 2023 than it was in 2021 or 2022,” York said. 
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