Despite several months of closure for several of its hotels following Hurricane Florence, Wrightsville Beach’s hotel tax revenues were down only 5.28 percent, which New Hanover County tourism officials told town officials was better than anticipated.
Moreover, while Wrightsville Beach’s room occupancy tax, paid by hotels and short-term rentals like AirBnB was down, the tax collected by other county beach towns and the city of Wilmington was markedly higher. During a meeting of the Wrightsville Beach Marketing Advisory Committee, officials from the county’s tourism development authority presented data showing the county’s ROT collection up eight percent.
“The hotels that are open are doing quite well right now,” said Kim Hufham, President and CEO of the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Wrightsville Beach is the only one that’s down.”
Wrightsville Beach saw sharp declines in ROT collections following the hurricane, with September collections down 20 percent from the prior year, while October was down 17 percent and November down 23 percent.
The source of the countywide increase in ROT collections isn’t from tourism, with extended stays from construction and restoration crews here to help in the Hurricane Florence recovery providing most of the boost. Those increased could be fleeting, Hufham said, as bookings of 90 days or more will result in a refund of ROT tax collections.
The city of Wilmington made the most of the influx of workers, showing a 33 percent year-to-date increase. But Hufham said not all of the increase was due to hurricane recovery efforts.
“We know that we are seeing visitors again,” she said.
With the Blockade Runner Beach Resort announcing a February reopening and other local businesses coming back to life, county tourism officials have launched a campaign to entice tourists to consider New Hanover County locations for their 2019 vacations.
Since November, the CVB has been rolling out a campaign designed to alleviate the negative perceptions about the region’s recovery following the storm. The campaign urged visitors to “be part of our comeback story.”
A portion of ROT revenues are required to be used for tourism promotion, where each municipality are But while Wilmington and other towns have put some of its available funding into the campaign, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen didn’t follow suit. With several properties and restaurants closed, aldermen raised doubts about a campaign that could draw tourists to the area, only to find closed business and continued cleanup efforts.
Despite not making a contribution to the campaign, Wrightsville Beach locations were still featured in the advertising materials. The campaign will cost around $445,000, Hufham said.
In the spring, the CVB will continue its “come back” advertising campaign, while also rolling out a standard tourism campaign highlighting the region’s attractions.