Friday, October 3, 2008

Outer Banks Tourism remains robust in current economy

Reports of year to date through August show that the Outer Banks still has a healthy tourism industry. Below is the full article from the Virginian-Pilot's Catherine Kozak:

Amid rocky economy, tourism sailed along in Outer Banks

By Catherine Kozak
The Virginian-Pilot
© October 3, 2008
Despite belt-tightening by the traveling public, Dare County showed a healthy increase in dollars spent in August on accommodations.

"This is probably the biggest August we've ever had in the 11 years we've been keeping records," Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said Thursday.

Gross occupancy receipts were up 13.7 percent over August 2007, with travelers spending almost $96 million on motels, hotels, campgrounds, cottage courts and rental homes, the bureau reported.

McCormick said the Labor Day weekend that began on Aug. 29, the month's fifth weekend, may have affected some of the data comparisons, because the holiday weekend started in one month and ended in another. But variables are typically factored in when calculating the numbers.

Even so, the good news for Dare County, she said, is the figures show that although many visitors may be pinching pennies, they're coming to the Outer Banks and staying at least one night.

"What we have is a convergence of things," McCormick said. "People are still traveling, but they're spending less money when it comes to things like a T-shirt.

"We are closer to more people," she said. "We are easy to get to. We are a safe, beautiful place."

From Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, gross occupancy figures - net dollars spent on an overnight accommodation - show an increase of 3.9 percent over 2007, according to a bureau news release. Receipts for prepared meals in August increased 2.8 percent over last year.

But all is not rosy; August visitation figures have shown a downturn at some sites. At the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, for instance, there were 51,468 visitors in 2008, compared with 55,279 in 2007; the Whalebone Welcome Center had 7,353 visitors in 2008 and 8,466 in 2007; Aycock Brown Welcome Center had 45,241 this year and 47,310 last year; the Cape Hatteras visitor center had 65,629 visitors this year and 66,496 last year; and the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry had 152,308 passengers in 2008 and 178,682 in 2007.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Wright Brothers National Memorial, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, however, all showed increases in August visitation.

McCormick said the bureau has worked to counter the weak economy by stepping up advertising, even through the summer. It has also capitalized on the just-released "Nights in Rodanthe" movie, which was shot on the Outer Banks, with partnerships and national and overseas marketing.

But McCormick said she knows that the country, and as a consequence, the tourism industry, faces a tough year ahead.

"I'm worried about the credit situation," she said, "because a lot of people do put their vacations on credit."

Catherine Kozak, (252) 441-1711,