'Things are looking up': Durham lagging behind other NC cities in tourism; leaders remain optimistic

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Wednesday, October 26, 2022
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Discover Durham released new tourism numbers Tuesday and though things are looking up, the figures are still lagging behind statewide averages.

Discover Durham released new tourism numbers Tuesday and though things are looking up, the figures are still lagging behind statewide averages.

Visitor spending was up more than 40 percent year over year.

Direct visitor spending, which hit a peak of nearly $1.1 billion in 2019, reached just $778 million in 2021. Jobs directly related to tourism were nearly 9000 before COVID. Last year recovered to just 5,700.

"We don't have that lunch crowd back, we don't have the daily foot traffic back in the city and that's something downtown businesses miss," said Susan Amey, president and CEO of Discover Durham.

She said things are looking up and one of those signs is in more meeting planners coming back to them for future things like conventions.

"We need to be really thoughtful and continue to be thoughtful about how we provide support for all these hospitality businesses," Amey said. "They've had a long road back, they still have a long way to go."

The Durham Hotel only has 53 rooms to fill but to get to the capacity they're at now they have had to up their prices with soaring inflation and a short labor market.

"Weekends have been great," said Craig Spitzer, operating partner at the Durham Hotel. "They've been great for me the last couple of years even in the depths of the pandemic."

Craig agrees it's still a struggle to get the mid week business traveler back. They're also hopeful more workers return to their offices instead of doing remote work.

"If large companies aren't requiring people to be back in the office, they're going to be hard pressed to get people to travel for work so we're definitely seeing that shortfall," said Craig.

He said they're doing 97 percent of the business they did in 2019 but with less occupancy. A few years ago it was at 70 percent. In 2022, Craig estimates around 64% occupancy.