CARTERET COUNTY — As summer winds down along the Crystal Coast, local tourism officials expect visitation to remain high not only through the upcoming Labor Day weekend, but for the rest of September, as well.
Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Jim Browder told the News-Times the TDA is projecting a strong Labor Day weekend, even with some popular attractions still closed and restaurants and other establishments operating with limited capacity due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We all have the sense that Labor Day weekend is going to be incredibly strong this year,” he said.
Mr. Browder said Carteret County’s vacation rental companies are reporting bookings are up as high as 20% compared to last year for the month of September, indicating to him that tourism will likely remain steady through early fall. He said hotels are also reporting strong bookings for this weekend and beyond.
Travel company AAA did not release its typical holiday-specific travel forecasts this year due to the pandemic, but it previously estimated Americans will take more than 700 million out-of-town trips July through September. That’s down about 14.6% overall compared to last year, but the estimated number of road trips is only down by 3.3%. In contrast, AAA said leisure air travel is expected to be down around 74% compared to last year.
Mr. Browder said Carteret County and other beach destinations have fared relatively well through the pandemic, especially compared to other tourist hot spots. He said Visit N.C. is reporting losses around $6.8 billion since March from lack of travel in North Carolina.
“The Crystal Coast has been a bit of an anomaly in the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr. Browder said. “…For the most part, coastal destinations have experienced a rebound in tourism since March instead of a loss.”
He suspects people are being drawn to the beach because it offers ample outdoor recreation opportunities and space for people to spread out. He said many visitors this year are from North Carolina rather than out of state as people are looking at destinations within easy driving distance of home.
Also, with remote work and school now widespread, Mr. Browder expects to see tourism remain steady throughout the early fall as people connect to their work virtually anywhere.
“We’re thinking that start-of-school dip that we normally see around September won’t be nearly as dramatic as years past,” he said.
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