Ocracoke wrestles with occupancy tax,
marketing, boosting tourism
By CONNIE LEINBACH
The Ocracoke Observer
receiving an outpouring of mostly negative comments about a proposed
tourism authority for Ocracoke, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich last week
unveiled a revised plan for enhancing tourism, especially in the
of a tourism development authority that would levy an additional 2
percent on top of the 3 percent occupancy tax already in place for all
short-term lodging stays, Rich wants to work within the 3 percent
proposes to allocate $100,000 from the current Occupancy Tax coffers
and hire a county employee who would be part public information officer
and part marketing person.
under Kris Noble, Hyde County planning and economic development
officer, this new person would help knit Ocracoke’s disparate
marketing together to get more tourists here in the off season.
fill heads-in-beds in the shoulder season,” would be our mission,” Rich
said to a crowd of more than 25 islanders Thursday night in the
Ocracoke Community Center.
The goal would be to raise at least $3 million more money for the county through increased tourism revenues, Rich said.
said this new county employee would work synergistically with the
groups on the island currently doing tourism marketing, such as the
Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, and that the resources of her
office could better position Ocracoke in the statewide
new entity, yet to be titled, would have a three-person oversight board
from the hospitality industry on the island, Rich said.
“This is important to Ocracoke, but it’s even more important to Hyde County,” Rich said.
February, Noble presented a proposal for a Tourism Development
Authority especially for Ocracoke that would be funded by raising the 3
percent Occupancy Tax to 5 percent.
Revenues from that added 2 percent would only be used for
Ocracoke, and out of that money the proposed board would hire a
full-time county employee devoted to tourism marketing and be a liaison
to the mainland.
At present, there is slightly more than $500,000 in reserve in the occupancy tax fund collected on Ocracoke.
Each year, a five-member board entertains requests from Ocracoke nonprofits and recommends dispersal of the funds.
County is one of only two counties in the state that is allowed to
grant funds for any public purpose, not just tourism. However,
Hyde County still controls the money and the commissioners still must
approve all of the Occupancy Tax Board recommendations, as well as this
new proposal by Rich.
said he will make this revised proposal to the Hyde County
commissioners at their next meeting April 6. Commissioner Earl
Pugh Jr. of Lake Landing Township on the mainland, who attended the
meeting, told the group that the commissioners need to hear islanders’
comments. Comments about this idea should be emailed to Lois
Stotesberry, the county clerk, [email protected], no later
than March 27.
“What if we have more people come and lots of businesses are closed?” asked Ashley Harrell, co-owner of Gaffer’s Sports Pub.
“Then the businesses that are open will be slammed,” Rich said.
Bob Oakes, owner of Ocracoke Island Realty, cautioned that rates for rental houses are lower in the off-season.
Horn, the travel and tourism director for the OCBA, noted that the
OCBA with its limited resources has done a lot to market the
island and connect with tourism consortia. She said she has noticed a
certain resistance among some business owners to enhancing off-season
business too much.
“Some people like to have their winters off,” she said.
Others in the audience remarked that Ocracoke businesses seem to have been closing earlier and opening later each year.
the (customers were) here, you’d have people open,” noted
Wayne Clark, owner of Edwards of Ocracoke. “Where we need help is
spring and fall.”
Gilbert, owner of the Anchorage Inn, and Leslie Lanier, owner of Books
to Be Red, both said they would open in winter if people were here.
Hyde County Commissioner John Fletcher cautioned against having a committee running the bureau.
“Have one person do it right, rather three or four and one not knowing what the other is doing,” he said.
legislation passed in 2006 but never enacted allows for the creation of
a Tourism Development Authority that would be empowered to collect
another 2 percent on the 3 percent that’s currently collected on all
short-term lodging and cottage rentals. This tax is in addition to the
6.75 percent North Carolina sales tax.
a public meeting Feb. 11 about this, the county received an outpouring
of comments, most against raising the occupancy tax and adding a new
Hyde County position, and the proposed tourism authority
resolution was not on the March 2 commissioners’ agenda. Rich read
several of these comments at the opening of the meeting.
(The article is reprinted with permission. For more news and features about Ocracoke, go to www.ocracokeobserver.com.)