Study shows Dare County tourism dollars declined by only 2% in 2020

By on October 9, 2021

(Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

(File photo credit: Kip Tabb)

A study commissioned by the North Carolina Tourism Office finds that during the pandemic year of 2020, Dare County’s tourism revenue was far less affected than other major tourist destinations in the state. According to the Oct. 8 release from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, tourism spending here declined only 2.2% in 2020, a year in which the statewide drop is tourism dollars was 31.7%.

Visitors were prohibited from entering Dare County for two months — from mid-March to mid-May of 2020. Since the county re-opened, it has experienced a tourism boom that has in some cases, been record setting.

The very modest 2.2% Dare County decline is far below the other three North Carolina counties that are ranked ahead of it as tourism destinations —Mecklenburg (-51%), Wake (-42.6%) and Buncombe (-34.9%). According to the release, a “more comprehensive methodology” that was used this year puts Dare County’s total tourism spending at $1.4 billion annually.

“It was one of the most challenging years we’ve ever faced on the Outer Banks,” explains Lee Nettles, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “For our local tourism industry to accomplish what it did, despite the closure, state-mandated capacity limits and the operational changes forced by a global pandemic is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a tribute to the popularity of the Outer Banks and a testament to the hard work and ingenuity of our local tourism partners.”

The study also reported 11,803 tourism-related jobs in Dare, which is nearly a third of the county’s population. Local tourism and visitor spending generated $123 million in state and local tax revenue. These statistics come from the “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2020,” which can be accessed at The study was prepared by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association.





  • Luminous

    Dare County with its primarily outdoor attractions remained a popular place to drive to during a pandemic. In Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) and Wake County (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), much of their tourism is based on flying in for conventions. Most conventions remain virtual (online only) or canceled. Buncombe County includes Asheville and the Biltmore Estate. They do some convention and big wedding business too.

    Sunday, Oct 10 @ 6:22 am
  • Luminous

    Oh and these are just the 2020 numbers- I don’t think Biltmore was open for touring from March through December 2020. Buncombe County has probably recovered much of its tourism business in 2021.

    Sunday, Oct 10 @ 6:30 am
  • Michael

    Not ( some cases) it is record setting. It’s unbelievable. I remember just 2 years ago people complaining “ we don’t need more grocery stores!! Um yeah we do. I can dive up and down beach, at most hours and it’s still packed in every store. Before the “ well if you don’t like it move” it’s not that simple. Everyone’s situation is different, but it doesn’t change the fact, it’s tougher to live here now days.

    Sunday, Oct 10 @ 7:02 am
  • Ken Flatt

    Cause and effect: Limited affordable worker housing, results in reduced labor pool requiring businesses to operate reduced hours and in turn paying less in sales tax.
    It’s not rocket science to figure out.

    Sunday, Oct 10 @ 9:01 am
  • Mark

    1.4 Billion tourism dollars collected in Dare County.
    123 Million dollars in taxes collected from Dare County.
    The Covid numbers, the overdose numbers, the crime numbers, obviously pale in comparison.
    We are not in Kansas anymore Dorothy!

    Sunday, Oct 10 @ 9:11 am
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