New Hanover County’s travel economy continues to thrive, with visitor spending up several million dollars over the previous year, according to state data. What’s more, local travel officials also released numbers that confirm the industry’s growing impact, in light of the approaching high travel season.
An economic impact study by Visit North Carolina shows that visitor expenditures hit a record $554 million in 2016 (2017 numbers have yet to be released). That’s a 6.42 percent increase over 2015’s $521 million.
Moreover, the county has experienced an annual increase in visitor spending since 2010. One factor behind the upturn is the area’s effort to attract visitors, officials say.
“What I can see from the state point of view, New Hanover has done a great job of investing in the product; in other words, they’re not just resting on their laurels and saying, ‘Oh we’ve got great beaches, maybe people will come,’” explained Wit Tuttell, director of Visit NC. “They’ve done a lot with the riverfront – invested in that – they have new hotels that have come in and helped support that growth, places like Carolina Beach re-did their boardwalk, and those type of investments pay off.
“Visitors have a great experience, and more come, and they spend more money,” he said.
Meanwhile, New Hanover County’s room occupancy tax collections also struck a high note. According to Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) officials, the room occupancy tax generated more than $12.5 million in fiscal year 2016-2017, marking a sixth consecutive annual record.
New Hanover County’s room occupancy tax is 6 percent of gross receipts, from short term lodging sales. Monies generated by the tax fund support various projects that benefit the community – and in turn, draw tourists.
“Nearly every business in New Hanover County is impacted, either directly or indirectly, by the new dollars that visitors bring into our community to help build our local tax base and provide a better quality of place for our residents,” said Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, in a statement. “A portion of the room occupancy tax collections also help to renourish our beaches, fund our convention center and offset other tourism-related activities such as ocean safety programs.”
Meanwhile, jobs are another byproduct of New Hanover County travel, with more than 6,150 jobs supported. The CVB said that number results in a payroll of nearly $130 million.
As for attractions that draw visitors and influence tourism spending in the area, options abound, including the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
The Kure Beach destination recently launched its seasonal Butterfly Bungalow exhibit, which features hundreds of exotic butterflies. For a $3 fee (aquarium admission is not required, according to the aquarium’s website), visitors can enter the enclosed garden and be surrounded by different species of the winged creatures.