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Study: Tourists Spend Billions In Area

By Cece Nunn, posted Sep 15, 2023
Shoppers head into a beachwear store near Surf City. Tourists spent billions in the Cape Fear region last year, according to a state study. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
Visitors spent more than usual in the Wilmington area in 2022, according to a recent state study, resulting in Brunswick and New Hanover counties landing as two of the top 10 counties in the state for visitor spending last year.

In New Hanover County alone, domestic and international visitors to and within the county spent nearly $1.06 billion last year, a 14% increase from 2021, stated a news release by the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

New Hanover County maintained its seventh-place standing in visitor spending among North Carolina’s 100 counties, according to the annual research project commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“This increase in visitor spending is a welcome sign that tourism in our destination continues to grow,” said Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, in the release. “During calendar year 2022, countywide room occupancy tax collections totaled more than $23.4 million, an increase of 10.67% over the previous ROT benchmark set in 2021. Our community benefits from visitor spending through job creation and a room tax base that helps fund beach renourishment, the Wilmington Convention Center, ocean safety programs and other tourism-related projects. 

“Additionally, travel-generated state and local tax revenues help offset the tax burden of local citizens.”

The study showed tourism employment in New Hanover County increased to 6,676 in 2022, up from 6,142 in 2021. 

Other highlights in the study for New Hanover were:
            • Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in New Hanover County was $276.6 million.
            • State tax revenue generated in New Hanover totaled $35.9 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. 
            • About $38.9 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.

Brunswick County’s spending exceeded New Hanover’s to take sixth place on the county list with $1.09 billion in visitor spending last year, the study showed.

The study, “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2022,” can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies and was prepared for Visit North Carolina by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association.

“Statewide, visitor spending in 2022 rose 15.2% to reach a record $33.3 billion,” the release stated. “Direct tourism employment increased 9.8% to 216,900.”

Ahead of New Hanover and Brunswick in the county rankings are Mecklenburg with $5.3 billion in spending in 2022; Wake with $2.95 billion; Buncombe with $2.87 billion; Dare with nearly $2 billion; and Guilford with $1.54 billion. 

Domestic and international visitors to and within Pender County, which ranked 35th on the county list, spent nearly $190 million in 2022, an increase of 14.7% from 2021. 

“The tourism industry in Pender County continues to grow and once again, visitor spending hit an all-time high in our county,” said Tammy Proctor, Pender County tourism director, in a Pender news release. “Tourism is driven by natural resources and outdoor recreation, history, agriculture and aquaculture and film. Pender County offers visitors all these attractions.”

The travel and tourism industry in Pender County directly employs more than 1,000, the release stated. The total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Pender County was $39.6 million.

The state tax revenue generated in Pender County totaled $6.2 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. About $8.9 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses. 

“The tourism industry is vital to the economic development of our county,” Proctor said in the release. “For the last five years, Pender County has set new visitor spending records and increased the number of jobs. That’s excellent economic development.”
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