While rough surf and heavy rain is expected to dampen the forecast for travel in Cape Fear region this Memorial Day weekend, tourism officials have their "fingers crossed" that the tourists will get some time in the sun.
As of 2 p.m., the National Weather Service was predicting that showers will increase Friday with the heaviest rain expected Friday night and Saturday. The forecast said the rain is expected to end Sunday morning. Memorial Day is Monday.
Rain isn't the only hazardous weather expected during the weekend – the Wilmington NWS office also said wind gusts up to 45 mph are possible along the coast, 35 mph inland.
Kim Hufham, president and CEO of Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she is still optimistic for the kickoff weekend of what is typically the area’s busiest tourism time.
“The prediction from AAA is that they are anticipating record-breaking travel this year. Even with this wonderful little storm they are expecting, we have heard of some cancellations, but they are still expecting some last-minute people calling in and coming on down,” Hufham said. “We still have lots of do even if the weather is bad, whether it is shopping or one of our many attractions.”
Hufham’s optimism goes beyond the number of visitors planning to come to town.
“It is not supposed to be a complete washout; fingers crossed. With Memorial Day being a three-day weekend, people made their plans and they’re coming no matter what,” Hufham said.
Although the numbers are not in yet, Hufham anticipates that the Room Occupancy Tax for April will be “flat.” Although people still visited the area, rainfall took its toll. The numbers collected through March were higher than those of previous years.
Summer is anticipated to bring a record-breaking tourist season.
“We have seen a bit of a softening of the vacation rentals market, but it is still strong. Hotels have indicated a change in booking habits with people tending to call early in the week for the weekend ahead rather than planning their trips months in advance,” Hufham said.
Jeff Bourk, director of Wilmington International Airport (ILM), said he anticipates an elevated travel period that could face additional challenges because of weather conditions, so he encourages people to check with their airlines for possible changes in scheduling.
With the continued growth of ILM, Bourk said he hopes travelers will give themselves extra time to avoid adding unneeded stress to their travel plans.
“Leave 15 to 20 minutes earlier; get here well before your flight to avoid that extra stress on you,” Bourk said. “We have plenty of parking, but if a lot is filled, you may want to allow a little extra time.”
ILM continues to expand, offering five inaugural flights within the next 30 days that include travel to Tampa and West Palm Beach, Florida; Wilmington, Delaware; Minneapolis; and Boston.
“This is a busy time of year with a lot of additional travel, and with the growth we are experiencing in general," Bourk said, "but it is an easy airport to get in and out of, and that is not changing."