Currituck sees almost 5 percent increase in visitor spending

By on September 7, 2017

Corolla’s family-friendly beaches are the top destination for tourists visiting Currituck County. (Dee Langston)

Tourism is on the uptick in Currituck County, where domestic visitors spent almost $154.2 million in 2016, up 4.9 percent from 2015.

“Tourism continues to be one of Currituck County’s main economic drivers,” said Tameron Kugler, Currituck’s Tourism director.

Besides the the beach, “probably our biggest attraction is the wild Spanish mustangs that roam free in the off-road area,” she added.


However, last year’s increase in tourism spending didn’t translate into more dollars for at least one off-road wild horse tour business.

“Last year was a bomb because we had a hurricane in the fall,” said Scott Trabue, owner of Back Country Safari Tours in Corolla.

Corolla’s wild Spanish mustangs are Corolla’s top attraction, which keeps off-road tour companies busy during the summer and fall. Here, a tour stops to watch dolphins in the surf. (Dee Langston)

“Nothing matters if we have a hurricane,” he added. “It gets flooded; we can’t run; and people don’t come back,” he said, pointing out that the roads in the off-road area are lower than the rest of the terrain, and resemble canals and drainage ditches after heavy rains.

Summer tours pay for the business’s overhead; profits and operating funds for the following season are generated in the fall, Trabue said. “The county has limited us to five vehicles, so we can’t grow our business,” he added.

Other Corolla attractions fared better last year.


“The Tourism Department has spent a lot of effort marketing the Historic Corolla Park, which is the heart of Corolla, and we’re seeing an yearly increase of visitors to the park and Whalehead,” Kugler said.

In 2016, about 18,000 people visited The Whalehead Club, a restored 1920s-era Art Nouveau-style mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The mansion, built in 1925, originally served as a lavish retreat for duck hunters, and is now the centerpiece of Historic Corolla Park.

“We’re seeing increased visitation to the park in general,” Kugler said. “We know that our marketing is working.”


In one day last summer, Whalehead drew 200 visitors, who lined up along the sidewalk and driveway, and paid either $5 or $7 each for the tour. Admission for children, seniors and active military is $5, other adults are $7.

Special events, such as Wednesday Wine Tastings and Thursdays’ Kids Day in the Park, along with corn hole tournaments, specialty tours of Whalehead and seasonal events, have helped draw people to Whalehead and the park.

Wednesday Wine Tastings are a big deal in Historic Corolla Park. (Dee Langston)

The wine tastings, held from the last Wednesday in May until the second week in September, draw 300 to 450 people each Wednesday, Kugler said. Thursday’s Kids Day in the Park includes a marionette show, a bounce house and yard games, along with a special tour of Whalehead from a child’s point of view.

Historic Corolla Park also includes the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, along with plenty of green space, access to the Currituck Sound, and a boat basin for fishing and crabbing.

The park is adjacent to Corolla Beach Light Station, a 162-foot red brick lighthouse that was completed in 1875. The lighthouse is operated by the nonprofit Outer Banks Conservationists.

Kugler said staff of the tourism department is pleased with the tourism growth in 2016, and expects 2017 to be even better.

“With new tournament fields (at Maple Park) and a new water park, H2OBX, we continue to expand our county assets and attractions,” she said.

The travel and tourism industry employs more that 1,640 people in Currituck, and generates a total payroll of more than $29.8 million. About $7.1 million in local taxes was generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.

Visitors to North Carolina set a record for spending in 2016. The $22.9 billion in total spending represented an increase of 4.4 percent from 2015.

“All eight economic development regions of the state had spending growth of 3 percent or more, and 96 percent of the state’s counties saw direct tourism employment growth from 2015 to 2016,” Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit North Carolina, said in a press release.

“Tourism continues to be major driver of economic development across North Carolina, which is the sixth most-visited state in the country,” he said.


  • Spend the money

    Hope for next year the added tax $ will be spent on resources or new approaches for adequate law enforcement, fire, and health services.

    Thursday, Sep 7 @ 8:37 am
  • surf123

    ““Tourism continues to be one of Currituck County’s main economic drivers,” said Tameron Kugler, Currituck’s Tourism director.”

    Let’s be clear about one thing: Tourism is their only economic driver. The rest of their economic drivers when totaled up are a rounding error when compared to tourism.

    Thursday, Sep 7 @ 12:27 pm
  • always in a hurry

    The traffic on the highway sure shows it. What happened to the boycott against this state full of haters? Thought that might help but guess not.

    Thursday, Sep 7 @ 3:01 pm
  • Michael

    Always in a hurry, yeah all those threats were a joke. The same when they threatened not to come here anymore bc of the power outage on hatteras. Tourism increases here every year. Which is fine. Great for businesses that desperately need it. Just please stop with the threats. Too much obsession with the “obx” they won’t stop coming. Ever lol

    Thursday, Sep 7 @ 4:23 pm
  • Bud

    Currituck beaches are a nightmare in the summer. The traffic is insane and the horse tours speed and roam all over creation causing more congestion.
    December through March is the time to go.

    Thursday, Sep 7 @ 7:34 pm
  • William Paul Bailey

    Good news! I like keeping our taxes lower due to tourist dollars. Good job to those working to bring in the tourists!

    Friday, Sep 8 @ 6:41 am
  • hightider

    Gee, I guess the bathroom issue didn’t keep the tourists away after all.

    Friday, Sep 8 @ 10:49 am
  • Gordon G

    Nice to see all that greed working out. And the longer they can dump all the traffic problems on Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores and Duck, the more money they can make. Go Currituck!

    Friday, Sep 8 @ 12:06 pm
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