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Despite coronavirus concerns, Outer Banks continues to see summer surge in tourism

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, June brought nearly 400,000 visitors to Cape Hatteras, a number they haven't seen in June since 2002.

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Keely Arthur
, WRAL reporter
NAGS HEAD, N.C. — Despite the coronavirus pandemic, June brought nearly 400,000 visitors to Cape Hatteras, a number they haven't seen in June since 2002.

Despite shutting down for nearly two months due to concerns over COVID-19, Dave Hallac, the superintendent of National Parks in the region, said the area could see a potentially record number of visitors to its parks.

“If things stay on track, we are likely to have either a record visitation year or a year that is certainly up there in terms of high numbers of visits,” Hallac said. “It’s fairly amazing. Since Dare and Hyde Counties reopened in mid-May, we are having very high-levels of visitation.”

A few of the buildings at certain parks are closed for indoor use and rules in line with CDC and state guidance are in place.

“We are asking for folks to wear masks, that’s strongly recommended, to wait six feet apart when they’re in line or at a visitor attraction and to wash their hands, and we are finding that the large majority of people are doing that,” Hallac said.

Hallac believes the increase in visitors has to do with the ability to remain socially distanced in the area. With 70 miles of shoreline, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped beaches left in the eastern U.S. Once you arrive to the area, Hallac said it’s easy to forget everything else that’s going on in the world.

“The beaches are open, the water is warm, and when it comes to enjoying Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the visit should be very similar,” Hallac said.

Beyond the parks, private businesses are doing well, too.

“The Outer Banks are very resilient,” said Trip Forman, an owner of REAL Watersports, a store and kite surfing haven.

Forman thinks it is the lessons learned in past weather events that helped them during the pandemic.

“In the past during hurricanes, when visitors weren’t allowed to come onto the island or the county, once that announcement gets made that they can, they’re lined up and ready to get back, and it’s been the same. We basically had a 100 percent rebound since day one,” Forman said.

Hallac and Forman agree the way tourism has shifted from flight to car travel brings added benefits.

“Over half the population of the United States can drive to the Outer Banks in a day,” Hallac said.

People in the area hope this trend will continue. Aaron Tuell, the public relations manager for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said people in the area have worked hard to make it safe for locals and visitors and he encourages people to come.

“I would point out there's a number of boxes that Dare County and The Outer Banks check off for people who are looking for a summer or fall vacation that, when taken with consideration in a responsible way, can limit you or your families' exposure to other vacationers," Tuell said.

"In particular, because we're the number one vacation rental home destination in the country for market share of homes, which provide benefit from all the ways you can isolate with your closest family and companions inside that environment, and being a major drive-in destination, the car travel helps limit your contact as well, vs. mass transportation or air travel."


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