Visitor spending increases statewide in 2021 as officials work to bring more international travel

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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A report released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce showed visitor spending increased in every county in 2021 compared to 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A report released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce showed visitor spending increased in every county in 2021 compared to 2020, as overall spending neared 2019 figures.

"2021 was a very strong year for visitor spending. We had a great comeback," said Wit Tuttell, Director of Visit North Carolina.

More promisingly, 75 of the state's 100 counties saw increases in spending compared to 2019, and North Carolina saw record-high domestic visitor spending.

"Typically we get about 40% in-state visitors. During the pandemic, that jumped up to 60-70%," Tuttell said.

"We saw a lot more people going on staycations from the surrounding areas, people wanting to do unique experiences," said Kai Kaapro, CEO of Raleigh-based TourScale, which operates the Trolley Pub in five cities statewide.

Kaapro said that after a difficult 2020, which forced the business to lay off 40 employees, 2021 brought a huge rebound.

"I would say 2021 would be like shaking a champagne bottle. There was a lot of pent-up demand. And starting in the spring, business exploded," Kaapro said.

The business is again exceeding pre-pandemic levels of 2019, though not tracking as high as last year.

"We would be very excited to see an increase in tourism in the state. It currently represents about 20% of our business. We've definitely seen that increase since we launched in 2012. The new initiative downtown, the Sip N' Stroll, we are very excited about. We think it's going to make a big impact on our business and continue to build downtown Raleigh as a destination," Kaapro said.

While domestic spending hit a record high in 2021, international travel lagged, and is an area that tourism officials are working to address.

"The key is having the flights. You've got to have the lift to make it easy for people to get here. We're really excited because a lot of those international flights are coming back to RDU and Charlotte," said Tuttell, who added that international travelers tend to stay longer and spend more.

Those marketing efforts were evident at the recent British Open, where officials highlighted North Carolina's golfing community. Selling experiences, which have risen in popularity during the pandemic, is the goal of The Raleigh Wine Shop's plans.

"Having a really welcoming shop, hosting events, whether it's a business bringing people from out of town or just tourists coming to visit, giving them a place where they can hang out, before dinner, have a glass of wine," said co-owner Seth Hoffman.

They moved into their new location on South Bloodworth Street in March, which is twice as large as their previous site. They have two private event rooms, plans to begin a food program, and even have their rows of merchandise on wheels - allowing them to be easily moved to create additional space.

"Summer's been great. Summer's usually a slightly slower season in the wine business, with people leaving town. But our new location encourages a little more drinking on-site and people hanging out with us," Hoffman said.