Visitors returning to OBX, but it’s been gradual

By on September 11, 2019

Parking lots at local hotels began filling up again. (ljurkowitz)

As the majority of residents in Dare County’s northern beach communities finished cleaning up the remnants of Dorian, a steady stream of vehicles flowed onto the island, signaling that for the most part, the Outer Banks was once again open for business.

After nearly a week of empty roads, vacant rental cottages and closed restaurants, the flow of incoming visitors marked the slow return to normalcy the Outer Banks is all too familiar with after a Hurricane evacuation.

“Obviously when we started re-entry, we had a tremendous influx of people eager to start their vacations,” said Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles. “I’m sure we will have a little bit of a gap to fill… but for what it’s worth, we are in full court press to restart the momentum as quickly as possible.”

Nettles said his bureau has added advertising dollars to social and online media campaigns as a result of Hurricane Dorian and has also reached out to the North Carolina Tourism Bureau in efforts to get the word out about accessibility following the storm.

Nettles also noted that differentiating the Outer Banks from Ocracoke, which experienced devastating flooding at the height of the storm, has been a challenge when it comes to news coverage.

“One of the uphill climbs we face with getting Dare County back online is the media coverage that references Ocracoke, calling it the Outer Banks,” Nettles noted.

Several northern Outer Banks merchants interviewed by the Voice acknowledged that business was starting to turn around since Dorian moved out and the evacuation was lifted.

We are not back in full swing just yet,” said Dan Lewis, president of the Outer Banks Restaurant Association and owner of Coastal Provisions in Southern Shores. Lewis said that many people returning following the evacuation were still in the surveying and recovery phase.  But, he added, that “based on traffic,” the traffic population was definitely filtering back onto the Outer Banks.

At the Days Inn in Kill Devil Hills, Assistant General Manager Tonia Cohen said the return of regular vacationers began on Tuesday after several days of that beachfront motel being booked with guests who were waiting for evacuation restrictions to be lifted on Hatteras Island, where they had vacations planned.

Down the street at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, Bar Manager Meghan Page noted the shift in customer traffic on Tuesday. After briefly opening up on Saturday, the restaurant was open for regular hours on Tuesday.

“We’ve definitely seen an influx on the island since the bridge opening. We just opened up for the first time and are slowly seeing more out of towners…slowly, but it’s getting there.”

The number of people on the beach has also increased, noted Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Director David Elder. Following heavy thunderstorms on Monday, Elder said visitors came out to the beach to look around. “The beach population was notably higher. Right now, the visitors who do decide to spend time with us should be aware of all the hazards that might be present in the ocean.”

Meanwhile, property management companies have been busy working with visitors whose vacations coincided with Hurricane Dorian and the evacuation orders.

“The folks coming back have been extremely patient,” said Shannon Kinser, marketing director for Sun Realty. She noted that it’s been a challenge inspecting places to ensure they are cleaned and habitable after the storm.

Kinser also stressed that because it wasn’t peak season, property managers have been able to get vacationers into alternative properties if their originally-planed rental homes incurred damage from Dorian. “Fortunately for us, we have a pretty good inventory,” she noted. “It’s a good thing it happened in September and not July.”

In the end, Kinser asserted that the events of the past week “hopefully, is a good argument to purchase travel insurance.”


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