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35% tourism decline predicted for New Hanover County

Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 11:56 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Tourism has taken a hard hit from COVID-19 but the economy is bouncing back in some parts of the state, including along the coast where people are looking to escape for vacations.

The New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority estimates $5 million was lost in fiscal year 2020, which ended in June.

CEO and President Kim Hufham predicts about the same amount will be lost in fiscal year 2021, which began this month.

The county’s room occupancy tax collections, which reflect hotel stays, were down almost 41% in May, after dropping by nearly 90% in April.

A June report for travel website Visit NC found the majority of people who feel comfortable traveling right now want to drive, stay closer to home and go to a destination for open-air activities.

“I think that the type of destination we are is to our advantage during this time. Yes we’re down, but we’re not as down and dire as some of the other areas,” Hufham said.

At Wrightsville Beach SUP, Jared Covington says business is on par with years past, but trends have shifted because of COVID-19 with more people interested in buying their own kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, or renting long term.

“A lot of people have more free time and want to be outside and escaping your gyms and your inside facilities, so one way to do that is to exercise outside,” Covington said.

His season actually started earlier with some people escaping the northeast to quarantine down south.

“Back in April and May, a lot of them came down and were renting houses here on the beach for a month, two months, three-month periods, so we sort of adapted our business to rent out equipment for longer periods of time to accommodate those people,” he said.

While many local residents have expressed concern over vacationers bringing COVID-19 to our area, Hufham hopes safe travel can be mutually beneficial.

“Number one, we want the visitors to know that we as a community are welcoming but also we are following the protocols and we want it to be a safe community. And the same way with the residents...to let them know that the visitor is aware and that our attractions, our restaurants, our hotels—are being very mindful of that as well. So, we want it to be a win-win for both,” she said.

Money from room occupancy tax collections goes back into the community.

“It goes to fund beach renourishment,” Hufham said. “It goes to fund the convention center development and marketing. It goes to fund our lifeguard programs and other activities that the beaches have.”

Hufham projects fiscal year 2020, which ended last month, will be down by about 35%, which is a loss of roughly $5 million dollars.

Covington says the biggest factor for his business’ success is weather and COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. He encourages everyone to be especially supportive of other businesses which haven’t fared so well.

“I feel very fortunate for my business being able to be outside and be open but there are a lot of businesses that aren’t and I feel really bad for them. So, any way that we can reach out and support small business owners, I mean all businesses really, but the ones that are affected the most...” he said. “It kinda hurts to be a small business owner and still be on par with years previous but seeing them hurt, it definitely hurts the whole community as a whole.”

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