Continuing record breaking tourism revenue reports from the county’s finance department are good news for the local economy but simultaneously should be a concern for municipal and county policy leaders. If the growth continues anywhere near the rapid pace seen over the past two years, the county may find itself quickly overwhelmed, resulting in dissatisfied visitors and damaging negative publicity.

In 2019, collections from the 6% occupancy tax amounted to little more than $7.5 million. The following year, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s occupancy tax receipts exceeded $9 million- a 20% increase.

A 20% increase is significant considering that travel and visitations were severely limited as a result of mandated quarantines and the subsequent fears associated with the virus, which also delayed the start of the tourist season nationally. While other tourist related industries and regions were negatively impacted by the pandemic, Carteret County and the Crystal Coast thrived and based on the revenue numbers coming in, this trend is continuing and possibly accelerating.

In Wednesday’s issue of the News-Times, reporter Cheryl Burke detailed the success of the Fourth of July weekend with a brief comment from Curtis Edwards, who was taking advantage of the weekend celebration and combining it with a father and son fishing trip at the Oceanana Fishing Pier. “We couldn’t find a hotel room so we ended up sleeping in the truck,” Mr. Edwards stated.

Motel rooms were not the only items in short supply during the weekend. Oceanana pier and restaurant manager, Michelle Burkette, told Ms. Burke that the weekend’s success was so significant that the pier and restaurant parking lot remained full all day, resulting in visitors being turned away.

Jim Browder, Executive Director the Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority, noted in the Wednesday news story that he suspects, once all the numbers are collected, that this year’s Independence Day weekend will break last year’s record setting numbers. Based on May’s revenue numbers released by the county’s finance department, there is every reason that Mr. Browder’s prediction is correct.

Reporter Brad Rich reports in today’s paper that Carteret County Shore Protection Officer Greg Rudolph reported to his board, which receives 50% of the county’s tourism revenues for beach nourishment projects, that room tax revenues for May eclipsed May 2020 revenue numbers by 97 percent. Mr. Rudolph went on to report that the current fiscal year- July 1 through June 30- is on pace to possibly double the collections for fiscal year 2019-20, which was also a record setting year.

Considering the challenges the county and tourism industry have experienced over the past 20 years with hurricanes, a major recession and most recently the pandemic, the continued and growing success of the county’s tourism is very good news. But it also indicates a need for aggressive preparation for the future.

Mr. Edward’s experience of not being able to find a motel room, while possibly the failure on his part to plan ahead for the biggest weekend of the year, is an indication that the county is near saturation.

Granted, there will be shortages at peak moments such as a major holiday event like the Fourth of July. But each time there are reports of shortages in either services or supplies, it is a good time to take an inventory to determine if these shortages are either a precursor or indication of a bigger problem.

Mr. Rudolph opined in his board presentation about room tax revenues that he doesn’t expect to see 60% to 100% month-over-month growth in perpetuity. That is good news because the county would quickly reach saturation and begin to decline as a result.

But that prediction should not cause any comfort. Considering the growth of the past two years, even a more stable increase of five to ten percent will stress existing services and facilities that are at, or near, their maximum capacity. Compounding this problem is the completion in the next ten years of I-42 which terminate in Carteret County. The easy access that this interstate will provide for travelers from the Raleigh/Research Triangle market, which is also experiencing rapid growth, portends major challenges for the county in the years ahead.

Tourism is a major economic engine for the county, the region and the state. The empirical evidence coming in from room taxes revenues alone indicates that not only is this an important industry to nurture, it is one that requires wise and immediate attention to assure we are prepared for the oncoming wave of visitors arriving much too soon.

(10) comments

David Collins

No room at the inn so slept in his truck . Isn’t that nice . Homeless tourists rough sleeping . That is just what we need for the area . Perhaps if word gets out they will back off coming here and give the rest of us a break . But , then the few who benefit money wise would not like that .

By the way , how is that new well over on EI coming ? Hit salt water yet ?

drewski

The way RV parks have been approved and popping up in the western part of the county, beach tourist density will increase until summer looks and feels like a kicked anthill on the island.

Progress?

beachmami13

definitely. although we all know that w/the lack of affordable housing in this area, the rv parks will turn into full time parks for many. The powers that be also didn't realize that the drive to have a tourist centric economy will also bring a big boom in homeless. Saw it happen in several areas I lived in that focused on tourism over a diversified economy. Also read that CC is in top % for the amount of vacation owned homes v. owner occupant houses. Interesting to see how EI and other beach towns will handle the increase of Air b n b turnover and shared housing, which will def. have a bigger and bigger strain on the septic systems as well as the infrastructure over there.

mpjeep

I believe Mr. Edwards didn’t want to pay for a room or pay much for a room. My sister-in-law came down at the same time Mr. Edwards did without reservations and found a last-minute room about a mile or so from the Ocea-nana. Of course, they had to pay a high price for it.

Bring 'em on so no more sales tax increase talk.

Jackie Gleason

Back in the day when "beach" cottages were popping up on EI...they were small three season cottages. Some lived year round but most didn't. During the 80's and 90's the beach cottages were replaced with bigger housing and then McMansions. People were wondering why they needed to pay more money for water and other services. The big environmental hazard is just a couple years away. In fact, one could argue it is happening right now based upon water samples taken from beaches. Those same small cottages with approved septic systems are the same upgraded year round homes and McMansions that have the same number of bedrooms but now have year round residence and renters that fill the houses to capacity with people. Daily multiple dishwashers running and washing machines tax the septic systems and the sand cannot filter the affluent as in previous years. We are, or will be soon, be swimming in filth. The Crystal Coast will then be named The Toilet Coast.

drewski

Mr Gleason is exactly right. Look back 10/12 years to another barrier island. Oak island,nc. The local newspaper archives will give the full story, the short version is due to multiple and repeated septic failures it was determined city sewers for all were required. A vac. System was determined to be best option since gravity isn't really an option. 6k assessment to all existing houses/lots on island, another 2 k to hook up to system. Then a monthly sewer bill 3x your water bill. Get behind on that they come shut off your water. The system has been plagued with problems. The initial costs were enough to drive the working poor off the island, freeing up trailer lots for mansions on stilts.

Many folks had to refinance, many took loans. Quite a few just had no options.

the secret life of man

I'm starting to see a pattern.Run the sewage into the stormwater drains,kinda like Shevans park splashpad shower and bidet,day spa wastewater straight to the 16th st beach in the promiseland.Were already swimming in filth here.We have two warning signs of bacteria in the Bogue sound at 16th st beach.The city of Morehead is crickets on this terrible problem.

David Collins

What you guys are describing has happened and is continuing to happen all up and down both coasts . Everyone seems to love the coast , sadly they are loving it to death . The local political clowns only see the short term dollars , not the long term effects and problems . E I is no different in that respect . They hire all these experts that really know little or nothing about these issues that plague other towns by the water . Sad !

dc

Business is booming for the honey wagons too.

the secret life of man

The honeywagons should have a message on them: This tank is full of political promises.

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