Numbers improving, but tourism still taking devastating hit in Wake County

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The coast isn't North Carolina's only summer destination.

Wake County, in fact, typically attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors for corporate retreats, concerts, festivals, sports tournaments and more. At least, that was the reality before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Hotel occupancy and restaurant sales both continue to increase slowly month-to-month and those are promising trends," Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Raleigh), said. "But the demand is not there and the hotels aren't bringing back full staff yet."

According to RCVB, tourism in Wake County is moving at a glacial pace compared to a pre-pandemic year that would welcome some 16.8 million visitors and generate some $2.7 billion in revenue. In 2020, analysts report hotel lodging tax collections so far this year are down $7.2 million (or 48.5%) over last year, while prepared food and beverage tax collections are down $4 million (or 25.7%).

At least 227 conventions, meetings and group sporting events have been canceled--an immediate loss of $118.5 million--and while some have rescheduled for 2021, the damage has already been done.

"You look at the (Duke Energy) Performing Arts Center, that was funded by the lodging tax," Edwards added. "There are a number of projects hoping to obtain that money this year, including upgrades to Marbles Kids Museum, a new tennis facility in Brier Creek, and upgrades to Dorothea Dix Park. All those projects are on hold until we bounce back."

Data from RCVB shows that just a few of the canceled meetings, conventions and sporting events cost Wake County hotels revenue from 44,136 nights booked in rooms.

Here are a few of the canceled events in Wake County and their projected economic impact:


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Despite the gloomy past, the new data is showing somewhat of a comeback as hotel occupancy now in Wake County hovers between 40-45%, a significant increase from April's average of 30%.

Who's coming here? According to Edwards, there are some state government contractors, visiting family and friends, and some staycationers as well.
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