5 On Your Side

WRAL poll: Few in NC to vacation in summer of pandemic

Posted May 7, 2020 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2020 10:22 p.m. EDT

Carolina Beach

— The crowds will be sparse on North Carolina's mountains and beaches this summer, with few people planning to vacation during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a WRAL News poll released Thursday.

SurveyUSA contacted 700 adults statewide April 23-26 for the exclusive poll. Responses have a credibility interval of +/- 4.7 percentage points.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they have already canceled or changed vacation plans because of the pandemic. Younger adults and wealthier families were more likely to alter or abandon vacation plans than older and poorer adults, according to the poll.

"What this summer will look like is almost as a fluid situation as COVID-19," Carolina Beach Mayor LeAnne Pierce said, referring to the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The political divide over how the pandemic has been addressed is clear in the poll, with only 38 percent of people who consider themselves "very conservative" canceling or changing their vacation plans, compared with 69 percent of "very liberal" people.

Similarly, people who support Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper were much more likely to cancel or change their vacation plans (63 percent) than those who back his Republican opponent in this fall's election, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (44 percent).

Conservatives have criticized state and local stay-at-home orders, which shut down state parks and beaches, as well as thousands of businesses, for weeks this spring. Business and social activities are starting to resume only now as some restrictions under the stay-at-home orders are beginning to be eased.

"This is first time in 25 years of business that we've been closed and laid off all our employees," said Pierce, who owns the Drifter's Reef Motel in Carolina Beach.

The stay-at-home orders halted short-term rentals, including hotel and motel rooms and vacation rentals.

Pierce said her motel has undergone a makeover in advance of guests returning.

"We've put in some sneeze guards to protect our staff and our customers," she said of the front desk. "We're discussing renting every other room on the property so they're not right side by side."

The motel also will ramp up its cleaning schedule and use white bed linens that can be bleached between each service.

If the pool reopens, she said she might limit how many guests can be there at a time and put more space between chairs.

It's unclear how many guests will be there this season, though.

Only 29 percent of people surveyed in the WRAL poll said they plan to visit the North Carolina coast this summer. Similarly, only 14 percent said they plan to take a trip to the mountains.

"None of us know what our summer season will look like," Pierce said. "We are discussing how any activities may or may not happen on the boardwalk this year."

"It is just like a hurricane," said Beverly Lem, manager of Jack Mackerels Island Grill in Kure Beach, "except that this lasted for weeks and months now."

Restaurants statewide have been limited to drive-thru, takeout and delivery orders since late March. When they are allowed to reopen under the state's three-phase plan, they will have to limit their capacity so customers and staff can maintain social distancing.

Jack Mackerels may put a tent up in a parking lot to provide additional seating as tables are spaced out, Lem said.

"We can social distance out here, and we've got a patio upstairs that we can take people there," she said. "We got a lot of space to put them. We just need the people to put in there."

The Lazy Pirate Island Sports Grill in Carolina Beach has remodeled to a more open, flowing floor plan. Meanwhile, the Nauti Dog Restaurant, which opened six months ago in Carolina Beach, is in talks with neighboring restaurants about possibly sharing outdoor tables.

"We need the island to reopen badly," Nauti Dog co-owner Rebekah Cholawa said. "Hopefully, we'll get some things lightened up ... where we can have all of the restaurants use the seating area with the distance regulations."

Travel outside the state appears to be a more attractive option, according to the WRAL News poll. Forty-six percent of respondents said they would take a trip somewhere in the U.S. this summer – only 10 percent said they would travel internationally – and it appears that most vacations will be road trips, as only 20 percent of respondents said they would get on a plane this year.

As North Carolina beaches and many businesses in coastal towns reopen this weekend, residents said they hope it's the start of a successful summer vacation season.

"Police department, our lifeguards and our fire people will all be out there patrolling the beach to make sure people are practicing social distance and in groups of less than 10," Pierce said.

The slow start should help businesses figure out what works and give them time to put plans in place so everyone can operate successfully and safely during the summer season.

"We just ask everybody to be patient and to be kind to each other and practice social distancing," Pierce said. "But come to the beach, come to the beach."

"We're going to get through it," Lem said. "It's just going to be a different year."

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.