With lower gas prices, tourism continued its steady climb in 2015 with record visitor spending of $21.9 billion, a 2.7 percent increase over 2014, outpacing the national average for growth last year of only 2.1 percent.
“Nearly 50 million people from across the United States visited North Carolina destinations last year,” Gov. Pat McCrory said. “The money they spend supports 211,400 jobs and more than 45,000 businesses.”
The figures are from research conducted by the US Travel Association on behalf of Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Other findings from the study showed state tax receipts as a result of visitor spending rose 6.1 percent to more than $1.1 billion. Visitors spent nearly $60 million per day in North Carolina last year and contributed about $4.9 million per day in state and local tax revenues as a result of that spending.
“The tourism industry’s success is shared across North Carolina,” said John E. Skvarla III, NC Commerce Secretary. “Tourism means jobs in all of the state’s 100 counties. In addition, each North Carolina household saves $475 annually in state and local taxes as a result of taxes generated by visitor expenditures.”
It also means record numbers of visitors are enjoying North Carolina State Parks. More than 17.3 million people visited the state’s 39 parks in 2015, up from 15.6 million the previous year, according to the NC Division of Parks and Recreation.
“An 11 percent increase proves that nothing compares to the enriching experience of a visit to a North Carolina state park,” Gov. McCrory said. “North Carolina’s natural beauty is an important part of our overall quality of life that is second to none. I commend the men and women of our parks division for creating unique adventures that can turn a visit into a lifetime memory, and sharing our vision of preserving our state parks for future generations.”
Among 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 30 reported increases in attendance in 2015. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in Chatham County reported the highest attendance at 1.6 million visits and was among six state park units logging more than a million visitors. The others were Fort Macon, Jockey’s Ridge and William B. Umstead state parks and Falls Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas.
“The diverse beauty of North Carolina is found in our state parks,” said Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz. “From the mountains to the coast, each park is unique in the wonderful opportunities it offers to our visitors to connect to nature.”
In recent years, many state parks have added special events to their calendars to complement system-wide events such as First Day Hikes, National Trails Day and Take a Child Outside Week. Newer state parks such as Carvers Creek in Cumberland County and Gorges State Park in Transylvania County are being discovered by the public.
“Beginning with First Day Hikes a year ago, North Carolinians found every opportunity to enjoy our state parks in 2015, setting an attendance record for the third straight year. This reflects the value they place on our state parks and the opportunities for family recreation,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “There are even more reasons to visit in 2016 as we celebrate our 100-year history with special events statewide and in every state park.”
At Fort Macon, despite drawing more than 1.2 million visitors, a new nature trail was introduced and the site took on the renovation of its bath house near the beach access.
A recent National Park Service report shows that 400,413 visitors to Cape Lookout National Seashore spent $17,698,100 in communities near the park in 2015 and supported 274 local jobs.
“Cape Lookout National Seashore welcomes visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Superintendent Patrick Kenney. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides. We also feature the park as a way to introduce our visitors to this part of the country and all that it offers. National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the US Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The report shows $16.9 billion of direct spending by 307.2 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 295,000 jobs nationally; 252,000 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the US economy was $32 billion.
The increase in tourism continues locally through 2016, notes Karen Gould, director of digital and event marketing.
“The Crystal Coast has seen a nice growth in the tourism industry with the addition of more cottages and condominiums on the market as well as several renovations to hotel properties,” said Gould. “We have also seen renovations and additions to some of our attractions and new exhibits at the NC Aquarium and the NC Maritime Museum. Cape Lookout National Seashore has added a full moon climb at the lighthouse that has proven to be very popular. We are considered one of the best “foodie” destinations in North Carolina with some of the finest dining experiences one can imagine. Having spoken with retailers and restaurants the tourism season has been the best they have seen in years. Our Occupancy Tax collections are showing a 6 percent increase over last year.”