New tourism numbers deliver a mixed message
“We do our best to understand what is going on behind the numbers,” said the managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau as he reflected on summer figures. “We don’t want to overhype big numbers.”
At the same time, he said, tourism officials don’t want to overlook numbers that fall short, either.
Gross occupancy and meals statistics are in for June and July, giving local tourism gurus a better picture of how the restaurant and lodging industries fared this summer. And Nettles is eager to see what August and September will bring.
Lodging rates in June jumped from last summer’s figures by nearly 18 percent, while restaurants brought in an increase of nearly 9 percent of what they earned in June of 2011.
“People were fired up about June,” Nettles said. “It was an especially strong month for us, but we are a little guarded about July. July was a little spotty and there were holes that were not there in prior years. From what we are hearing, people hit their numbers, but they had to scramble for them.”
July statistics were flat, with a modest increase in both meal and occupancy collections.
“That would explain the mixed reports out in the community,” Nettles said. “July is the biggest month of the year, and if you miss the numbers by a couple points, you’re hard pressed to make it up. I was glad to see we held even.”
Rental homes were the only industry among lodging facilities to see a gain in July, he added. Rental homes make up 80 percent of the Outer Banks lodging options.
According to the statistics, July gross occupancy receipts amounted to $111,091,066, which represents a 0.8 percent increase over last July. Gross meals amounted to $36.9 million, a 1.26 percent increase over last July.
Nettles noted that the tourism industry was working off of a particularly strong July in 2011.
“The July 2012 numbers are the highest on record,” he added.
The inflated June numbers, Nettles said, were in part due to the five Saturdays in June this year compared to just four during June of 2011.
While the Outer Banks is typically insulated from the national economic situation, Nettles said the effects have hit the beach community a little more than in past years.
Visitors, he said, are not spending as much money while here and working hard to find a discount. The low July figures may be proof of that, he said, because vacationers often look for June and August deals in lodging.
“People are taking the trip,” Nettles said. “It’s just a matter of how they are spending their money.”
Gross meal tax statistics can also be deceiving, he said. The 8.9 percent increase in June could be in part due to the need of restaurants to raise prices to keep up with rising costs.
Michelle Robertson, general manager of the Black Pelican in Kitty Hawk, said that this summer has been a strong one.
“We’ve had a great summer,” she said, adding that the popular beachside restaurant fared a little better than last summer.
Abbi Siler, marketing director of Kitty Hawk Kites, said business has been pretty consistent with last year.
“But the effects of Irene obviously had an impact on our numbers last year,” she said. The absence of storms during August, she said, has significantly increased sales for the store this summer.
“If we can continue the final weeks of the season without major storms, we are projecting to be up in sales for 2012. We’re crossing our fingers for great weather and no hurricanes this year.”
Visitation statistics on popular Outer Banks tourist sites remained relatively flat with a few exceptions. Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head reported nearly 100,000 less visitors this July than last. June numbers were equally as drastic, with more than 120,000 fewer visitors.
“It’s an anomaly,” Nettles said, “because the numbers are not consistent (with other visitation statistics). He added that visitation statistics are generally not a great indicator of occupancy and meal revenues.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial had 7,000 fewer visitors in July compared to the previous year. The North Carolina Aquarium, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Roanoke Island Festival Park and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse all had numbers in June and July that were similar to last year’s figures.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island attracted approximately 8,000 more visitors this July than last year. The Lost Colony had slightly fewer guests during June and July compared with last summer.
Nettles said he expects August to be a good month from a tourism perspective, and from research in social media, potential visitors are not still affected by the intense impact of Hurricane Irene last September.
“It appears folks are moving past that in their minds,” he said.
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