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Tide of Tourists Brings Business to Outer Banks

The Outer Banks Visitor's Bureau says the barrier islands are experiencing their best tourist season this summer since since Hurricane Isabel struck in September 2003.

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MANTEO, N.C. — Along the tide-washed Outer Banks, tourists and their dollars have been rolling in at a higher rate this summer than in the past several years, tourism officials said.

Outer Banks Visitor's Bureau officials said the barrier islands have experienced their best tourist season this summer since since Hurricane Isabel struck in September 2003, ripping up parts of N.C. Highway 12 and causing nearly $168 million worth of damage.

Vacationer Marion Jones said she and her family have witnessed the rush to the beach.

"We have them here from Pennsylvania, Maryland. You meet a lot of nice people that come in for the summer," Jones said.

Labor Day weekend marks the official end to the summer season, after which hotels and rental companies lower their rates by as much as half.

So far, restaurants and hotels are making about 10 percent more money this year than usual - an increase of $50 million, said Carolyn McCormick, with the OBVB.

Joe Cowling, general manager of Colony IV by the Sea, said business is up 15 percent at his hotel in Kill Devil Hills.

Attendance numbers are also up at Jockey's Ridge State Park, from which the Wright Brothers made the first manned flight in 1903. With 36 million tons of sand, Jockey's Ridge is the largest sand dune on the East Coast.

This year, the state park has already seen between 160,000 and 170,000 more visitors than in all of last year, park superintendent George Barnes said.

"The most fulfilling this is when we get to talk to them about how it got here and why it's here," Barnes said.

Cowling said his upsurge in business is partly to due to targeted marketing in the Northeast and Midwest. Most of his guests are from Ohio and Pennsylvania, he said.

"We advertise in those areas. We identify our feeder markets and put our marketing dollars in those areas," Cowling said.

The OBVB also annually spends around $2 million marketing the islands as a tourist destination.

McCormick named a variety of reasons why the Outer Banks has seen a tourist boom this summer.

"Good weather. We've been blessed with good weather," she said. "We've got great roads that have really been improved in the last couple of years."

The widening of U.S. Highway 64, which leads Triangle-area vacationers to Manteo, has helped bring more North Carolinians to the Outer Banks, said McCormick, who did not give a specific number.

Jones pointed to a perhaps more fundamental reason for the tourists at the Outer Banks.

"The beach is beautiful," she said.