Tourism numbers ‘soften’ in new collections data

By on December 26, 2022

Nettles suggests something of a return to the pre-COVID era

In his recap of the Dec. 15 Dare County Tourism Board meeting, Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles said that the more recent lodging and restaurant collections data suggest a slowing in the major tourism boom of the last few years.

“Now as we’ve been cautioning and pointing out over time, we have seen some softening of the numbers and more of a move back to a normalization, kind of looking a bit more like 2019, pre-COVID,” Nettles stated on the video recap of that Dec. 15 meeting.

According to those numbers — which are available through October 2022 — occupancy collections for the year to date are still up about 6% from 2021 overall. However occupancy collections for the month of October 2022 ($43.6 million) were down .5% from the same period last year. This follows September 2022 numbers that were virtually the same as the 2021 numbers and August 2022 occupancy collections that were down roughly 10% from the same month in 2021.

On the meals collections side, the overall 2022 numbers to date are up slightly, about 3%, over the 2021 overall numbers. But the numbers for October 2022 ($18.9 million) dropped a full 35% from those for October 2021. For most of the other months of this year, the 2022 collections were roughly at the 2021 levels.

While the newest numbers may show a recent tightening of tourism dollars, one clear takeaway is the extent of the tourist boom during the COVID years of 2020 and 2021 once Dare officials re-opened access to the county in May 2020, particularly when it came occupancy dollars.

For example, the October 2022 occupancy number of $43.6 million, while basically flat from 2021, is still almost double the occupancy collections for October 2019 ($22.6 million). And while, the October 2022 meals collections saw a drop that put it on about the same level as the October 2019 dollars, the September 2022 meals collections ($39.7 million) were about 60% higher than the September 2019 numbers ($24.6 million).

In a May 2022 interview with the Voice, Nettles acknowledged that “The level of visitation that we’ve had in the last year and a half is not necessarily sustainable.”

Click here to watch the Dare County Tourism Board Recap | December 2022.


  • Harry Ehnis

    Well I for one hope they soften much more than “pre-Covid”… I would sacrifice paying much higher taxes if it meant a massive cut in our “visitors” yearly.

    Monday, Dec 26 @ 3:14 pm
  • Glenn

    No surprises there…visitors and locals alike are fed up with the frequent reckless drivers, trash everywhere, tacky stores, rude and argumentative people at the beaches, road ways, grocery stores…etc. Unfortunately, the overall quality (with very few exceptions) of local cuisine restaurant offerings has dropped immensely…so many people are opting for Delaware, South or Florida beaches/coastal areas.

    Monday, Dec 26 @ 4:39 pm
  • Travis

    This is a completely unscientific opinion, but based on random conversations with visitors over the many years I’ve lived here, one word always surfaced when they described the Outer Banks: The Charm. “Charm” has a sort of ethereal quality where it means different things to different people, of course, but generally they felt the mom and pop stores, the cottage courts, the Pioneer, the open beaches, the paper mache putt putt courses…all of that seemed to lend to the charming aspects of the Outer Banks.

    We’ll always have the history and the open beaches (except in Duck) but many of the charming aspects of the beach have evaporated. There is nothing charming about a McMansion. There is nothing charming about the explosion of chain restaurants and loss of the ones like Kelly’s or George’s Junction that had a very local feel. The Casino is long gone, of course, but rather than an eye toward bringing something like that back we’re building a convention center in Nags Head. Very not charming.

    There’s no way to stop the change in its tracks and who that lives here would want to? Some of it has been good. But the headlong rush to modernize and supersize everything on this beach has come at a cost.

    Monday, Dec 26 @ 8:19 pm
  • John

    What do they expect.
    You have Duck taken over by rich out of towners and no public beach access there.
    Kh,kdh,nh they’re building every square inch of the bypass. Even adding a gas station where there are already two! (Wawa)
    Restaurant food quality has gone way down with some restaurants even rude to customers(ten o six and Madison’s I have witnessed the owners basically cuss out patrons)
    The “special” feeling of our special place is withering away for commercialism.

    Tuesday, Dec 27 @ 6:35 am
  • Billsnc

    It’s more likely that with the pending economic downturn and inflation, that people are being more careful with their discretionary spending.

    Tuesday, Dec 27 @ 6:49 am
  • Czarina

    I totally agree with Travis. I have been coming to OBX since 1970, and lived here the past 20 years. The “charm” is hard to find. It is quite evident the powers-to-be are after $$$ instead of retaining what drew people here. Medical services suck! Mom-and-pop is disappearing, being replaced by corporate stores. The only place I truly see the old OBX is on the beach, facing east, with my back to all those multi-million dollar mansions that the powers-to-be refuse to control.

    Tuesday, Dec 27 @ 7:07 am
  • Kdh backseat reviewer

    Everyone needs to stop thinking like the past is going to return. It’s gone. History. Everything evolves or it goes extinct.
    We need more sustainable year round business. I applaud the tourism board for the data. Society and culture is changing. Some for the good some for the worst. We get a little taste of that each summer

    Tuesday, Dec 27 @ 7:18 am
  • Steven

    Odd that everyone has called the outer banks obnoxious for years.
    Now it’s just that and getting worse..

    Wednesday, Dec 28 @ 11:18 am
  • Michael

    I don’t see how this is accurate. 2022 was crazy busy. As bad as ever.

    Wednesday, Dec 28 @ 7:02 pm
  • Tara

    I suspect part of the decline is that children are no longer in remote learning, so parents who may also have worked remote could not spend September and October school weeks at the beach. Also, as the world has opened up post Covid, people who stuck to U.S. vacations the last couple of years are going back to traveling abroad for some of their vacations.

    Saturday, Dec 31 @ 9:40 am