State News

Outer Banks meeting challenges in troubled economy

Posted August 4, 2008

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— More people visited the Outer Banks in June than a year ago despite soaring gasoline prices and other impediments to tourism, the region's visitors bureau reported Monday.

This year, the Outer Banks vacationers have also dealt with drifting smoke from two wildfires, closed beaches and the troubled economy.

"We were a little bit anxious and little bit nervous about how the tourism industry was going to fare," said Carolyn McCormick, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

Statistics compiled by the visitors bureau, though, show a 7 percent rise in occupancy in June, when 4.5 million people visited.

"This is our family time, and we come no matter how much it costs," said Amy Jefferies, whose family had traveled from Rockingham County.

The growth came mostly from rental homes, up 10 percent in June and bringing in more than $56 million. Occupancy rises included time shares and bed-and-breakfast inns.

Occupancy at campgrounds, hotels and motels, however, was down in June. Travel experts said that reservations for rental cottages are made long in advance, encouraging vacationers to stick with them and to eschew more impromptu accommodations.

Restaurants experienced a slight decline in business, with gross receipts dropping more than 1 percent in June, according to the visitors bureau. For the first six months of the year, restaurant sales were flat at $75.8 million.

"It's not terrible, but it's also not one of our banner years," said Nags Head restaurant owner Dan Bibey.

Owner Teresa Bateman said traffic at RV's Sugar Creek Soundfront Restaurant has relieved her fears about a gloomy tourism forecast.

"It's been a good surprise, and we've been happy about it," Bateman said. "We feel very fortunate."

The drop in restaurant receipts indicate that visitors might be spending less money once they arrive at their rental house. Allen Burrus, whose family owns a grocery store in Hatteras Village, said customers are buying fewer expensive items, such as steak.

Burrus' store on Hatteras also had to contend with the closure of miles of federal beaches to protect the nests of endangered birds and sea turtles.

County officials have said the beach closures hurt the island's economy, but occupancy also increased on Hatteras, according to the visitors bureau.

Burrus, who is also vice chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, said he had been concerned about the beach closures.

"I own a small mom-and-pop grocery store, but I'm doing well," Burrus said. "Business is up."

The visitors bureau countered a gloomy tourism forecast with a marketing offense, including more Internet advertising and more local marketing efforts.

Travel experts said the next challenges facing the region will be to gear up for the fall season – and keep the reservations coming in for next summer.

McCormick said the overall gain demonstrates the viability of the Outer Banks as a tourist destination, with a sound base and a coastline that sells itself.

"We rock! We continue to be an awesome destination," McCormick said.

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  • nchooks2 Aug 5, 2008

    Visitation is actually down at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. The so called rise in visitors was calculated from the occupancy tax collected, not from actual head counts. If the rental rates increase, the occupancy tax increases proportionately. The National Park Service data shows a decline in visitors to the sites as compared to other National Parks in the state and nation. The beach closures and Consent Decree have had a substantial effect on the decreasing number of visitors the the Outer Banks. The numbers can be skewed to represent whatever the writer wants to portray.

  • shine Aug 4, 2008

    The headline is in conflict with the actual story.....

    Does not make alot of sense.

  • msudawg Aug 4, 2008

    We rented a house the second week in June and it seemed a lot more busy than that time last year. We had a 1 1/2 hour wait Sunset Bar and Grille and Duck- last year we waited 15 minutes. Parasailing through Kitty Hawk Kites was pretty well booked as well, we were able to get one group of us to go up early in the morning but the second group had to wait until the heat of the afternoon. We also had to wait for a kayak rental. I for one was very glad to see the SeaMark in Southern Shores gone! I thought it was really unclean. I will be glad next summer when a Harris Teeter is in it's place and we can get some quality meats. As for seafood- we never purchased seafood from them there was a seafood market right in the front of the parking lot with great prices.

  • mrsgaskill Aug 4, 2008

    foetine...we were also quite unhappy Seamark Foods closed! What a great store...nice fresh seafood at great prices.

  • living the dream Aug 4, 2008

    Was at OBX 2 weeks ago. More people towards Kitty Hawk. The memorial was overflowing with people. But down towards Cape Hatteras light house Avon area there wasn't many people. Lots of Pennsylvania and Jersy tags

  • Centurian Aug 4, 2008

    We used to rent a place near Avon for two weeks each year, but opted not to do so this year because so many of the beaches were closed to protect bird nests.

  • foetine Aug 4, 2008

    we just got back from Nagshead and it wasn't that crowded - except if you were driving towards Duck on Saturday afternoon. The dinner at Sugar Creek was barely a 10 minute wait. The only thing packed was the Tuesday night showing of the Dark Knight. Did see more NC cars than before. There weren't any Canadian cars in our area. I was sadden to see that both Seamark grocery stores were gone. They plowed over the one in Kitty Hawk to build a new Harris-Teeter.

  • mrsgaskill Aug 4, 2008

    Just got back Saturday from OBX. Stayed in Buxton and there was occupancy at most of the hotels / motels. Very little traffic as well. Maybe a 15 minute line at the ferry. I'd say there were way fewer people this summer compared to summers past.

  • 59cruisers Aug 4, 2008

    Anyone who has been there this year, would know that the numbers of visitors is way down. Even the park service numbers confirm this. The report is on $$ from occupancy tax numbers, which reflect the cost of staying there, but not necessarily the number of people there. Also, they do not distinguish between the southern outer banks and northern. The north has been spared the closures (too much money at stake), while the south has been largely shut down.

  • Me again Aug 4, 2008

    Must be a bunch of folks from Italy. Good job Gov. Easley!!! Glad you took the trip to Italy to promote tourism in NC.