WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Tourism continues to bear the brunt of the pandemic as 100,000 people still remain out of work in the industry and billions of dollars are lost in visitor spending.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Visit North Carolina Director Wit Tuttell said. “In a moment essentially, tourism stopped.”
But as a vaccine slowly makes its way into the arms of Americans, tourism leaders in our area and in the state are hopeful that people will feel more comfortable traveling by Summer, and that we could see a glimmer of normalcy by 2021.
“Our hope is by early summer, people are really back traveling.” Tuttell said. “Now that’s not back at the level it was before, but hopefully it will be at a good enough level to get a lot of those jobs back.”
Almost half of all job loss in the state during this pandemic comes from the tourism industry.
In November of 2019, the tourism industry employed about 522,000 people. In November of 2020, only 422,000 people still had their jobs.
Visit N.C. serves as the state’s tourism office and conducts weekly traveler sentiment surveys with a national research company. Although the rollout of the vaccine has been slower than originally expected, the idea of a vaccine has still boosted traveler sentiment overall.
Fifty percent of American travelers say the vaccine made them optimistic they can travel within the next six months, and 30% have already started travel planning. Officials at ILM airport say they plan to be ready for when that percentage increases, and more people start to plan their trips to the beach.
“Right now with the vaccine rollout we are confident that it will bring passengers back to air travel,” ILM finance director Robert Campbell said. “It’s very difficult to say right now when that might happen but we are hopeful it will be by the middle of the year.”
Carriers at ILM also plan to add back some their normal summer schedule.
“We have been told that the airlines are fairly positive that they will be able to add back their usual summer service to Chicago O’Hare and LaGuardia airports. Additionally, American is hoping to add a nonstop flight to Boston this summer.”
That nonstop flight to Boston was announced in early 2020 for that Summer but was delayed due to the pandemic.
Although Tuttell and Visit N.C. are looking forward to when visitors make their way back to North Carolina, the tourism office recognizes that the country is still in the thick of a pandemic. That is why it continues to push a campaign of safety called Count On Me N.C., which encourages masking up and social distancing. As soon as traveler sentiment numbers increase, however, they plan to get back in the inspiration business.
“We think that by late Spring we’ll be able to get back into the inspiration business,” Tuttell said. “That people will be ready to travel. The vaccine will have spread out enough. And our hope is by early Summer, people are really back traveling.”
Despite problems with the rollout, the owners of the Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach say a coastal getaway is about as safe as it gets. Even if you’re last on the vaccination list.
“You know there are a lot of things you can do in a beach vacation and are still very safe, so we are hopeful that people will recognize our efforts to prevent covid and be able to provide that safe vacation until the vaccine is more widely available to the general public,” said Lisa Giaimo, OTO Development VP of Sales and Marketing
And that’s why Tuttell thinks Southeastern North Carolina could rebound the fastest.
“I think the coastal areas will be one of the areas that comes back first.”