Craven and Lenoir counties expect best tourist season
Everything indicates that summer tourists will once again flock to smaller towns such as New Bern and Kinston.
With an easing of restrictions on COVID-19, coupled with vaccinations, local restaurants, shops and tourism targets are ready for the best influx of tourists in recent years, following two hurricanes and a pandemic .
“There’s a lot of excitement, because everywhere you read, people in big cities and densely populated areas want to go to a place with fewer people, more open space, and that includes cities like New Bern. Said Kevin Roberts, President of the New Bern Region Chamber of Commerce. “We have already seen, just in April, an increase in the number of people entering this market. It’s very exciting, but coming out of this pandemic, it’s also a bit alarming for us, because especially restaurants, but really all companies have a hard time getting people back to work. ”
Questions arise about the labor shortage
The lingering question, then, is how to balance high expectations with whether there will be enough welcoming workers, like in the hospitality industry, to handle the usual heavy summer load.
Roberts said there are a number of reasons many workers don’t return to pre-pandemic jobs.
“If we don’t find solutions to that, we’re not going to be as prepared when our season comes, and we don’t have enough people to serve these people who are visiting our market,” said Roberts.
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Other workers, especially in the hospitality industry who were struggling to survive, changed their career paths, obtaining new training for better-paying skilled labor jobs.
College and high school students generally hold seasonal jobs. Disrupted college schedules and remedial summer courses have reduced this pool.
Parental concerns and fear of the current threat of COVID-19 have resulted in many teens being taken out of the summer job market, requiring a lot of crowd contact.
“It’s not just a downtown issue. It’s quite a New Bern area issue,” Roberts said. “But we are trying to prepare, because every indicator tells us that the economy is doing well, there is a lot of money there; people saved a lot of money because they weren’t traveling that much and they weren’t spending. a lot of money for themselves last year. They’re going to start spending this summer this summer and we’re getting ready for it. ”
The second meeting in a month of New Bern area restaurant and retail owners and managers is on May 19 to discuss and share ideas for possible solutions to bring workers back.
Craven backed by a proven track record
The Craven County TDA – Tourism Development Authority has had a great response this year to their summer marketing, especially on social media.
TDA Executive Director Melissa Riggle said the numbers show tourism spending is big business in Craven County.
The 2019 figures included $ 155.6 million in domestic visitor spending, with around 1,200 residents employed in the travel and tourism industry.
Riggle said 2021 is gone for the races when it comes to the economic impact of tourism.
“Our March totals actually outperformed where we were pre-COVID and pre-hurricane (Florence), which is amazing,” she said. “It was one of the strongest marches we’ve seen to date. April is the same. I’ve had merchants report that they’ve had the best April they’ve ever had, so we’re definitely in a strong rebound.
TDA’s occupancy tax collection has fluctuated by over $ 1 million per year since 2006, including $ 1.1 million in the last nine months of the current fiscal year.
2019 was actually a $ 2 million year, but Riggle pointed out that it was not motivated by tourists after Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
“In 2018 and 2019 the numbers were a bit misleading in that we had a high occupancy rate, but that was a lot of FEMA workers, (demolition, repair and rehabilitation workers) and people displaced by the storm, ”she said.
It is not the typical tourists and business travelers who are expected to return this year.
“Now what we’re seeing now is that the reservation window is getting longer, people are planning ahead, which is good for staffing and preparation on our side,” said Riggle. ”
Roberts said New Bern’s tourist season had no more “dead months” after the New Year, drawing people in all year round. It accelerates from spring to September, with another peak during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Julia McKeon, manager of the New Bern Farmers Market in the city center, said more tourists were already in sight, adding that the open-air market has always been a popular stop for visitors on Saturdays as well as when the market has its market. spring and summer Tuesday.
“We did a survey and found that more than half of our Tuesday purchases were from tourists. We keep a little book in advance so people can log in and there were people from New Zealand, from Denmark, ”she said. “COVID has cut off most tourism, but when it resumes, the board will have fun coming back on Tuesday.”
New Bern has no shortage of drawing maps, from the area’s biggest tourist attraction – Tryon Palace, to the Fire Museum and Pepsi Store, to the quaint and culturally rich downtown and waterfront, to homes and sites. historical, through panoramic tours. And, of course, there is the attraction of the waters of the Trente and Neuse rivers.
Major events such as the Great Trent River Raft Race, MumFest, Bridge Run, MS Bike Tour and Ghostwalk attract over 100,000 visitors each year.
A new attraction this year – the African American Heritage Trail – will soon open in the greater Craven Terrace / Dryborough neighborhood, featuring 16 intricate signs – photos, graphics and written history.
Kinston sees heavy tourist traffic early
Kinston / Lenior Chamber of Commerce executive director Craig Hill said the recent BBQ Fest sur la Neuse is a strong indicator of people traveling again.
“We had an overwhelming response from people coming out, ready to do things,” Hill said.
Jan Parson, executive director of the Kinston / Lenoir County Tourism Development Authority, said crowd estimates were around 20,000 people over two days, spread across 12 blocks.
The BBQ Fest sur la Neuse is “the biggest whole pork barbecue in the country, possibly the world,” Parsons said.
“Our city was packed with people,” Hill said, adding that in early 2021, “downtown is bubbling over on weekends. The parking lots are full.”
He also highlighted the return of the Down East Wood Ducks minor league baseball team after a year off due to the pandemic. Playing a six-game home and away streak, the team won their first home game in front of a sold-out crowd at 60% capacity. It was an indication that the team’s annual economic impact of $ 2 million is also returning.
Hill pointed out that thousands of fans from across eastern North Carolina flock to Kinston to see professional baseball and that the home and visiting teams stay and eat locally.
Hill said downtown restaurants all saw an increase in visitor numbers earlier in the year.
But, as is the case in Craven County, the aid situation is worrying.
“We’re having some of the same issues,” Hill said, adding that a long-standing downtown restaurant “closes Monday evenings to allow its employees to rest; they just don’t have enough staff. And we You have rental signs everywhere you can think of. ”
But, overall, the mood is optimistic for people visiting and also for relocating their families and incomes to Lenoir County.
“The housing market here – as it is across the country – is out of this world,” he said. “About a week ago I spoke to one of the real estate agents and he told me that there were only 29 homes listed in Lenoir County. They sell out in a day or two. It has been a long time since we had this kind of deal. Some of these people come from out of state, from the big cities. ”
Parson said Kinston had been slow to rebound after massive flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which destroyed nearly 200 businesses and 120 hotel rooms. As businesses have repaired and rebuilt themselves, the pandemic has arrived.
But major attractions are planned for 2021, such as the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretation Center; the Kinston / Lenoir County Art Trial (the state’s largest public art trail); the African American Music Trail (Kinston is the hub of eight counties); and a variety of historic region battlefields.
For more information see Facebook –
@VisitNewBernLocal, @NewBernChamberofCommerce, @visitkinstonnc, @kinstonchamber.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or at [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.