Buoyed by a rebound in the state’s urban centers, and supported by continued high numbers along the coast and the mountains, visitors to North Carolina spent a record $33.3 billion in 2022 according to data released Friday.
The preliminary findings from an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina reflecting the economic impact of tourism on local economies across the state said Dare County had the fourth-most spending by visitors last year of $1.973 billion.
That trails only Mecklenburg (Charlotte) at $5.332 billion, Wake (Raleigh) $2.951 billion and Buncombe (Asheville) $2.879 billion. Currituck County was 14th in the state with $549.91 million.
The report also said visitor spending led to each of Dare County’s 37,956 residents saving $3,696.70 in state and local taxes, more than double of any other county in North Carolina.
“The nearly $3,700 in tax relief per local resident emphasizes one of the positive impacts of tourism, as does the employment figure with nearly half of all Dare County jobs happening in the tourism industry,” said Lee Nettles, Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director. “But the Dare County Tourism Board’s work with Long-Range Tourism Management Planning (LRTMP) demonstrates the board’s commitment to responsible growth, recognizing and managing the negative impacts caused by tourism.”
Currituck County residents were saved $1,208.03 in state and local taxes, the third-highest amount in the state.
“Visitors to Corolla, Carova and the mainland continue to support a tourism economy that allows our residents to enjoy an exceptional quality of life, supports our businesses and creates jobs,” said Currituck County Travel and Tourism Director Tameron Kugler.
“As we celebrate a record $33.3 billion in visitor spending statewide, we’re pleased that counties that rely on business travel as well as leisure trips are doing well,” said N.C. Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders.
“Tourism has long been one of North Carolina’s most vital industries, and we can take pride in the hospitality and authentic experiences that appeal to the needs and interests of millions of visitors who come to our state each year,” Sanders said.
“Tourism is more than an essential industry for the state,” said Visit NC’s Wit Tuttell. “It’s an economic development force in all 100 of our counties, the places where travelers experience our scenic beauty and adventure, our cuisine and unique culture, our history and the dynamic forces that create our enduring appeal.
“Our visitor spending reports underscore the value of these assets in terms of jobs and tax revenues that relieve some of the burden on residents,” Tuttell said. “We look forward to continued success in welcoming people to experience places they won’t find anywhere else.”
The visitor spending study, commissioned by Visit NC and conducted by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association, provides preliminary estimates of domestic and international traveler expenditures as well as employment, payroll income, and state and local tax revenues directly generated by these expenditures.
The statistical model draws on detailed data from Visit NC as well as data derived from federal and state government sources, nationally known private and non-profit travel organizations, and other travel industry sources.
According to the study, Dare County spending increased by eight percent from 2021, with lodging accounting for $553.14 million in spending, food and beverage $582.94 million, recreation $260.17 million, retail $175.52 million, and transport $401.93 million.
Spending by visitors in Dare County employed 12,030 workers that generated $444.3 million in labor income. $66 million in state taxes, and $74.2 million in local taxes was created by visitors.
Currituck County saw visitor spending grow by 16.2 percent from last year, with lodging income of $173.04 million, food and beverage $149.98 million, recreation $70.07 million, retail $46.16 million, and transport $110.67 million.
2,437 Currituck residents work in jobs supported by the tourism industry, generating $109.4 million in labor income. Visitors to Currituck generated $16 million in state taxes and $21.4 million in local taxes.
The tax figures come from state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income, while the local taxes include those generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.
Kugler is already anticipating the 2023 totals for Currituck will be even better than what was reported on Friday.
“This summer, we see a seven percent increase in occupancy tax from 2022, and the popularity of our destination continues to draw visitors to its remote, family friendly pristine beaches and wild Spanish Mustangs that roam freely on our off-road beaches,” Kugler said.
Pasquotank ranked third in the Greater Outer Banks region with $84.56 million in visitor spending, an increase of 2.7 percent from 2022, 521 jobs, $18.4 million labor income, $3.4 million state taxes, $2.5 million local taxes and tax savings per resident of $142.94.
Hyde County was fourth regionally, accounting for $58.31 million in spending, growing by 9.6 percent, 376 jobs, $13.6 million labor income, $1.9 million state taxes, $2.5 million local taxes, and a tax savings per resident of $985.23.
Across the rest of the Greater Outer Banks, Hertford County was fifth ($29.25 million, -2.1 percent), followed by Chowan ($28.72 million, +11.4 percent), Bertie ($23.42 million, +14.3 percent), Perquimans ($19.81 million, +3 percent), Washington (17.81 million, +7.4 percent), Gates ($9.79 million, +4.8 percent), Tyrrell ($6.74 million, +3.8 percent) and Camden ($3.59 million, +15.8 percent).
The study found 45 of the state’s 100 counties had double-digit increases in visitor spending. Eight of the top 10 (Davidson, Durham, Mecklenburg, Wake, Orange, Guilford, Forsyth and Cabarrus) are regarded as urban or regional city/suburban. Caswell and Granville, the other top 10 counties, are classified as rural.
Growth in direct tourism employment was more evenly distributed among rural and urban counties with more than a quarter seeing double-digit increases.
Durham led all counties with a 23 percent increase. Other counties with top increases in tourism employment were Martin (up 20 percent), Orange (up 20 percent), and Davidson (up 19 percent).
Other highlights from the study, according to VisitNC:
Total spending by domestic and international visitors in North Carolina reached $33.3 billion in 2022. That sum represents a 15.2 percent increase over 2021 expenditures. The figure falls 14 percent above the record $29.22 billion spent in 2019.
- Domestic travelers spent a record $32.4 billion in 2022. Spending was up 13.4 percent from $28.6 billion in 2021.
- International travelers spent $910 million in 2022, up 170 percent from the previous year.
- Visitors to North Carolina generated $4.2 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2022. The total represents a 7.9 percent increase from 2020.
- State tax receipts from visitor spending rose 6.5 percent to nearly $1.3 billion in 2022.
- Local tax receipts grew 3.5 percent to nearly $1.2 billion.
- Direct tourism employment in North Carolina increased 9.8 percent to 216,900.
- Direct tourism payroll increased 13.5 percent to $8.7 billion.
- Visitors spend more than $91 million per day in North Carolina. That spending adds $6.7 million per day to state and local tax revenues (about $3.5 million in state taxes and $3.2 million in local taxes).
- Each North Carolina household saved $512 on average in state and local taxes as a direct result of visitor spending in the state. Savings per capita averaged $230.
- North Carolina hosted approximately 43 million visitors in 2022.