Background

The benefits of tourism in North Carolina are very apparent:

  • Tourism brought 55 million people to NC in 2015.
  • They spent $21.9 billion, generating nearly $1.8 billion in state and local tax revenues.
  • Tourism generated 211,000 jobs, and $5.2 billion in wages.

But the costs of tourism are less clear. Standard population measures don’t necessarily account for populations that ebb and flow — as they tend to do in resort and beach towns. The North Carolina Association of Resort Towns and Convention Cities wanted to better understand some of the unique planning challenges their constituents faced, including:

  • The seasonal costs associated with being a vacation destination.
  • How increased seasonal populations impact traffic patterns, water usage, and public safety calls.
  • The comparison of revenue and expenditure in tourist destinations.

They asked Carolina Demography to identify and analyze data to better understand the experiences of highly visited, smaller communities throughout the state.

Approach

We looked at three locations:

  • Blowing Rock in Watauga County
  • Oak Island in Brunswick County
  • Nags Head in Dare County

While these locations vary significantly in size and the characteristics of their parent county, they share one major factor in common: they each have economics significantly impacted by tourism.

We collected data from a variety of sources, looking at factors like emergency services usage, water demands, housing, local employment, and local expenditures and investments. We also interviewed people who worked in these locations.

“The mis-aligned value system among seasonal residents, [tourists], local workforce, vacation property owners, merchants, local government, and membership organizations can create quite difficult dynamics to manage.” – Kent Graham, Fire Chief of Blowing Rock

Results

Our research made clear that you can’t look at the benefits of tourism without also accounting for the cost of infrastructure — and that it is a difficult dynamic to manage. The results were presented in both a report and presentation, which the North Carolina Association of Resort Towns and Convention Cities used to determine better ways to support their constituents.

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