Wilmington, N.C.— Domestic visitors to and within New Hanover County spent an estimated $598 million in 2020, which represents a decrease of -22.6 percent from 2019 spending. New Hanover County ranks 7th in visitor spending among North Carolina’s 100 counties. Tourism employment in New Hanover County dropped from 6,680 in 2019 to 5,455 in 2020. The data comes from an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“On the heels of nine consecutive record-breaking years for visitor spending, it is disappointing yet not surprising that tourism spending and direct tourism employment for New Hanover County both decreased during 2020. The decreases are a direct result of travel restrictions and negative shifts in visitor sentiment toward travel during the outbreak of Covid-19. The global pandemic is also the reason why countywide room occupancy tax collections decreased by -14.53% with $13.26 million dollars in total collections for calendar year 2020,” states Kim Hufham, president/CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority.

By comparison, New Hanover County actually fared better than did many larger urban destinations. As spring 2020 approached, travel trends shifted. Safety became the dominant travel trend and visitors began to seek destinations with outdoor activities and wide open spaces. New Hanover County’s year-round beaches, riverfront, parks and gardens—along with partner participation in the Count on Me NC safety training program—positioned Wilmington and Beaches as a safe travel destination.

“With 2020 in the rearview mirror, we are reminded of the importance of travel and tourism to our community, especially in terms of jobs, small businesses, economic growth and quality of place. As travel and tourism returns to more normal levels, we remain cautiously optimistic that Wilmington and our island beaches will once again rise with steady increases in jobs and visitor spending during 2021 and beyond,” states Kim Hufham. “Our community benefits from visitor spending through job creation and a strong tax base that helps fund beach renourishment, the Wilmington Convention Center, and other tourism-related projects. Additionally, travel-generated state and local tax revenues offset the tax burden of local citizens.”

Tourism impact highlights for 2020:

  • The travel and tourism industry directly employed more than 5,455 people in New Hanover County; down from 6,680 in 2019. 
  • Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in New Hanover County was $186.5 million.
  • State tax revenue generated in New Hanover County totaled $23.9 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. About $27.6 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.
  • Travel-generated state and local tax revenues saved each New Hanover County resident an estimated $218.66.

These statistics come from the “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2020,” which can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies. The study was prepared for Visit North Carolina by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association.

Statewide, visitor spending was down -32 percent to $19.96 billion compared to 2019. Tourism employment fell -26 percent to 178,685. The losses were most acutely felt in urban areas.

“We are extremely gratified that tourism thrived in 20 counties in the face of pandemic shutdowns and other impediments to travel,” said Visit NC Director Wit Tuttell. “And despite the bad news for North Carolina as a whole, our ranking at No. 5 among states for visitation is a position of strength for rebuilding our tourism economy. Given the state’s resilience and vast appeal of its natural beauty, our creative cities and our authentic experiences at every turn, we’re confident that we’ll regain what has been lost and exceed the spending records of the recent past.”

The New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), d/b/a Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, markets and develops the county and its communities’ leisure and group travel experiences for economic growth and quality of place.


Connie Nelson
Wilmington CVB
910-341-4030 x120