Tourism is up across the state, but especially in Beaufort County

Published 12:11 pm Saturday, August 17, 2019

As the sixth-most visited state in the U.S., North Carolina ranks at the top of the tourism trade, and Beaufort County is keeping up with the trend.

Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Beaufort County had a 7.7% increase in tourism expenditures from 2017 to 2018 — the second-highest percentage increase in the state, according to Visit North Carolina’s annual economic impact study.

“It’s surprising, but it is exciting for everybody in town,” said Erin Ruyle, executive director of Washington Tourism Development Authority. “It’s an opportunity to take that momentum and build more and do more to bring more people to town.”

Ruyle attributes the increase in tourism dollars spent in Beaufort County in 2018 — $93.26 million, as opposed to $86.55 million the previous year — to a combination of factors: more shops, more events, more targeted advertising, more places to stay.

“I don’t think we can pinpoint the one thing. It’s kind of a mix of several things: a budding downtown, new things opening downtown; I think organizations working together to collaborate on events,” Ruyle said. “There’s just more things for people to do when people are here.”

The visitor spending study is commissioned by Visit North Carolina, but conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, and uses sales and tax revenue data, employment figures and other industry and economic data to determine the overall impact of visitor spending in North Carolina, according to a press release from the Office of Gov. Roy Cooper.

Just as Beaufort County saw a bump in expenditures from one year to the next, so did all 100 counties. Visitors spent $25.3 billion statewide in 2018, directly supported more than 230,000 jobs and generated more than $6.3 billion in payroll across North Carolina, according to the press release.

“North Carolina’s tourism industry set a new record last year in visitor spending despite the effects of the storms,” Cooper stated in the press release. “This is a testament to the lasting beauty of our state and the determination of our people.”

Hurricane Florence, which hit mid-September 2018, likely had some bearing on Beaufort County’s increase in tourism expenditures, as hotels were booked with residents displaced by the hurricane and those in town to help with recovery.

“The hurricane played a part in it because we saw a big spike in occupancy rate. That’s where saw a lot of people coming from out of town, driving down to New Bern to help out,” Ruyle said.

She said she believes other factors weighed just as heavily, including direct advertising to target markets in Raleigh and Greenville and other collaborative marketing efforts by organizations such as Washington Women’s Business Co-op. The opening of Fairfield Inn and Suites in Washington also provided more places to stay for people traveling to the area for East Carolina University athletic events, which meant more people shopping downtown, as well, Ruyle said.

It’s not only new business and new places to stay that are bringing out-of-towners in — the old draws are doing just as much business, if not more.

“The (Washington) Civic Center is doing really well. We’re booked every weekend through 2020,” Ruyle said. “I think that’s a huge part of tourism as well.”