CARTERET COUNTY — The Crystal Coast has done it again: occupancy tax revenues in October broke the all-time record for the month, continuing a now 17-month streak of record collections from hotels, vacation rentals and other temporary lodgings in Carteret County that began amid the pandemic.
The county took in $822,230 in occupancy taxes in October, blowing away the previous record set in October 2020 of $584,136 and representing a 41% increase over the previous year. Before 2020, typical collections for October – one of the months in the “shoulder season,” when peak tourism has died down, but the off season hasn’t fully set in – ranged from the upper $200,000s to lower $400,000s.
Through the end of October, the county collected $12.1 million in occupancy taxes for the calendar year 2021, already surpassing the previous yearly collection record with two months left to go. The previous record was set in 2020, when the county took in more than $9 million.
Using some rough estimation, Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Jim Browder said if the trend continues through the end of the year, he anticipates total collections for 2021 to reach around $12.6 or $12.7 million.
“I think November and December will have an uptick,” he said. “We’ve pushed the holidays events pretty hard, so we feel December will be a really good month.”
As for October’s numbers, Mr. Browder said several high-profile events returned after taking a pause last year during the coronavirus pandemic, including the N.C. Seafood Festival, the Emerald Isle Marathon and Beaufort Wine & Food.
“October is a testament to the return of events to the area,” Mr. Browder said. “…Even though we saw positive growth in September, it was much larger in October. I think people are comfortable again with getting out and about more and that’s leading to higher tourism.”
The TDA – which splits occupancy tax collections 50/50 with the County Shore Protection Office and uses its share for advertising – has focused efforts in recent years on boosting tourism during the shoulder seasons, an approach Mr. Browder thinks has started to pay off. Another strategy he thinks has been successful is advertisement campaigns targeting more specific geographic regions, especially the Interstate 95 corridor.
“The net used to be pretty wide for advertising, but lately we’ve brought the circle much closer,” he said.
Mr. Browder said many people visited Carteret County for the first time this year, and a greater share of visitors are traveling from areas like Charlotte and the northern Virginia/Washington, D.C./Maryland region than before. He said people who visit the Crystal Coast tend to be very loyal and often become repeat or even yearly visitors.
“I think it will translate to a stronger tourism base going forward,” he said.
Mr. Browder acknowledges the past two tourism seasons have been rather exceptional due to the pandemic, and the record-shattering growth seen over the last 17-plus months is probably not sustainable. He said many factors, such as limited international travel options and tourists’ desire for more outdoors-oriented locations, probably helped the area while other destinations have struggled.
However, if early bookings are any indication, he thinks the growth will continue next year and beyond, even if it isn’t as dramatic.
“I don’t think we’ll go backwards,” he said. “All of those negatives (of the pandemic) worked out because of our positives, but I think it will level out eventually.”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.