CARTERET COUNTY — Following a record-breaking summer for tourism in Carteret County, the Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority is trying to keep the momentum going through the fall and holiday seasons and beyond.
The TDA Board of Directors met Tuesday morning via Zoom for the first time since June. At the time of the board’s last meeting before a summer hiatus, the TDA had recently received occupancy tax figures for the month of April showing collections were down nearly 90% compared to 2019.
Despite low numbers to start the spring, hotel and vacation rental property managers reported bookings had begun to rebound around mid-May, when the county and state lifted most coronavirus travel restrictions. Many TDA members said they were hopeful for a robust summer season.
In fact, occupancy tax revenues were up nearly 17% in June compared to last year and collections broke the all-time record in July. Revenues, which the TDA splits 50/50 with the County Shore Protection Office, totaled $2.41 million in July, blowing away the previous record of $2.02 million set in July 2017.
With summer’s figures taken into account, collections are up 9% for the year. That’s amid a pandemic that has had major impacts on the travel industry worldwide.
TDA Executive Director Jim Browder previously told the News-Times the Crystal Coast and other coastal areas were popular destinations for people who want to vacation, but still avoid large crowds. He said people are especially hesitant to travel by plane, so the majority of visitors this year were those within driving distance of the coast, including a large proportion of in-state visitors.
Hoping to carry forward the momentum of the summer season to the end of the year and beyond, the TDA board approved a budget amendment moving $400,000 from the contingency fund to marketing. Of that, $150,000 will go toward promoting the 2020 holiday season, and the other $250,000 will be for marketing early spring 2021.
“We turned off a lot of our marketing during the early days of the pandemic, we weren’t sure what was going to happen with occupancy (taxes), but between our cost savings and the … increase in occupancy, we have a pretty good amount of money in our reserve funds that’s been piling up,” TDA Board Chairman Trace Cooper said.
Mr. Cooper said after speaking with some of the county’s vacation property managers, the general consensus is tourism will likely remain strong through the fall season. He said the extra money for marketing may help boost the off-season, as well.
“This will be in addition to our existing campaigns,” he noted.
The TDA board also heard updates from its advertising partners Tuesday. David Avery with the marketing firm the Tombras Group gave a preview of an upcoming campaign that has been adapted to include COVID-19 messaging. He said the TDA’s marketing going forward should emphasize aspects of the Crystal Coast that make it a safe, desirable place to travel during the pandemic.
“Overall, we’re seeing there’s a return to a simple, more classic vacationing experience, and it gives a nice pairing for what the coast offers,” Mr. Avery said. “It means our messaging must align with these changing values and emerging mindset.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.