‘Sustainable tourism’ — for visitors and locals

By on August 24, 2021

New initiative ties tourist economy to community vitality

Whitney Knollenberg speaking recently at Jennette’s Pier.

During a presentation to an audience gathered at Jennette’s Pier in late July, Whitney Knollenberg, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at NC State, addressed an issue she hopes becomes a commonplace term here – “sustainable tourism.”

Knollenberg’s current work on the Outer Banks is, in fact, being funded by the new Lighthouse Fund for Sustainable Tourism, the outgrowth of a partnership between NC State and Twiddy & Company President Clark Twiddy, who is footing the bill.

The idea is to bring a fresh perspective to the issues involved in sustaining the Outer Banks’ tourism economy while improving the quality of life for those who live and work here. Or as Knollenberg put it: “It’s got to be a great place to visit and a great place to live. You have to have both pieces.”

Over time, Twiddy hopes the initiative will take root and grow. “I would love to see an Office of Sustainable Tourism on the Outer Banks that is constantly exploring the best practices around the world for sustainable tourism and teaching us…on the Outer Banks, how to do this in the best possible way,” he said.

It’s no secret that Dare County is in the midst of an explosion of visitors. As an example, a comparison of available year-to-date numbers from the Dare County Tourism Board for 2021 and 2019 (pre-pandemic) shows that occupancy revenue is up 68%, and food and beverage increased by 25% so far this year.

“We spent thirty years as a community trying not to be Myrtle Beach [or] Virginia Beach, and we did a great job with that,” Twiddy says, quoting a friend’s observation. “But frankly we just didn’t anticipate how popular we would become.”

That popularity has put real strains on the system that sustains tourism.

“We started to see negative impacts. We started to see that there were going to get shortages in our workforce, in our supply chain,” Knollenberg said at her presentation. She pointed to restaurants that have had to reduce hours in peak season and cautioned that if tourists have to wait for service and “they’re not having a great experience…they could tell a lot of other people that they didn’t have a great time on the Outer Banks.”

In her interview with the Voice, Knollenberg elaborated on the inextricable link between attracting and servicing visitors and sustaining the locals who make that happen. “It is the people who are at the heart of this [tourism] industry, who keep it running,” she said. “Those people are crucial to the industry being sustained.”

She cited the importance of creating sufficient affordable or workforce housing — terms that are frequently used here — as the key to a sustainable tourism economy. And she pointed out that the issues confronting the area are different than most tourist-driven economies.

“The Outer Banks is unique in many ways because of the geography,” she said in the Voice interview. “We’ve got to think about what makes sense in terms of places that we could build that will be safe to be long term. Things like the issues with being able to build to code for hurricane compliance.”

She also pointed to the jurisdictional structure of the Outer Banks as an issue that has to be acknowledged to address the affordable housing crisis.

“Something that really makes the Outer Banks unique is that we have three separate decision-making bodies [in Currituck Dare and Hyde Counties], plus the incorporated areas within Dare County,” she said. “There’s lots of people having to think about this and make decisions for their constituents and their residents.”

For his part, Twiddy noted that tackling these issues will probably require a regional approach. Increasingly the Outer Banks workforce, he points out, does not live on the Outer Banks, and the best way to address the issue may be to work with the communities where the workers already live.

“The Outer Banks workforce, more and more, is orienting to Elizabeth City, to Columbia. That’s where the affordable housing is and I would love the idea that maybe we could have a regional planning board that has housing as a focus,” he said.

At her July 28 presentation at Jennette’s Pier, Knollenberg also called for a shift in how we think about tourism and used another relatively new term around here – “destination management.”

“A way to think about this, the paradigm that could be helpful, and changing our approach to tourism is called destination management…It’s been adopted by many other communities across the United States and across the world,” she said. “It focuses on balancing all those wonderful opportunities, growth of visitation, environmental responsibility and quality of life, while still ensuring that residents and those who deal with those negative impacts of tourism every day, are engaged and participate in development and benefit from tourism.”


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Steve Railsback

    First, it is indeed comical that a Twiddy would be “spearheading” such an initiative. “Sustainable”? It’s good to be the king, eh? Bud is spot on in his comment above. We started coming to OBX in 1987. In those 30+ years, the type of renter has degraded quite a bit. Trust me…I’ve spent many summers at the Jersey Shore, live in an area where OC and MB are popular with some people. The class of renter has deteriorated. Sorry, but its the elephant in the room: rent to lower class, get a lower class experience. Goodbye Kelly’s…hello chain supermarket (or whatever ends up there).

    Thursday, Aug 26 @ 8:30 am
  • hightider

    After 30 years in FL (hell on earth), I dreamed of returning to my home, the best place left. I was disappointed when I returned in 2012 but took the chance. It was a mistake. The OBX will never be anything better than now with traffic issues, no affordable housing for workers, hideous mega mansions, over crowding. In 2012 I believed Carova was the last great place but it is pretty much ruined too. Even Martha’s Vineyard has open spaces and rural areas and only 20K fulltime population. It only becomes hell on earth for 5 months. Now the OBX has no respite. I wanted this to be my last move because at my age, I am tired, but this place is no longer Mr Twiddy’s word “sustainable.” I feel bad for people who never had the opportunity to be here when it was truly wonderful.

    Thursday, Aug 26 @ 7:15 pm