Area Tourism Data Indicating Gradual Rebuild
Friday, November 13, 2020, 2pm by Jonathan Freeze, CDME
One of the important responsibilities that GRCVB bears for Wake County is the collection and constant monitoring of tourism-related statistics. As you can imagine during the past year, we have seen some jubilant highs and jarring lows as tourism numbers, across the board, have been reported.
As is often the case, the truth inherent in the data we're watching is—"there's some good news and there's some bad news." We reported last week about some of the good news—since our "Wish You Were Here" campaign launched in August, many of the marketing stats that correlate with trip consideration and planning are trending upward.
On the other side of the coin are this year's meeting/event cancellation numbers, which of course are difficult to turn around as COVID-related gathering restrictions persist—not to mention a lag that has always existed between the planning of an overnight visit to somewhere and the visitors' or event attendees' actual arrival dates.
In the spirit of letting our partners know everything we know, let us first share more good news.
Daily visitor arrivals into Wake County this year had hit a record low on March 29, 2020, according to our data sourced from Arrivalist. However, these have steadily increased on average since then; since mid-Sept. 2020 particularly, arrivals have reentered "the ballpark" of our 2019 daily visitor arrival figures. Looking month-by-month, the daily visitor arrival average for Aug. 2020 sat 8.2% higher than July's; Sept. 2020 was 4.5% higher than August's average; and Oct. 2020 was 10.8% above September's average.
Though there's much fluctuation day-by-day, our daily visitor arrivals in Oct. 2020 averaged 25.2% more than during July countywide. This is a great data trend, which we expect can be bolstered further as GRCVB's ongoing marketing campaign reaches more and more potential day-trippers and overnight visitors in drive markets, stimulating demand. (Notably our Arrivalist data source is the only projection of day-trip visitation we have available, yet we know historically that day-trippers contribute some 20% of trip-dollars to our county economy annually—valuable visitor spending to recoup!)
And then the not-so-good news, which you might have already seen. This new report was released to media last week and detailed the continuing impact of COVID-19 on our hospitality tax collections through September, on the area hotel sector and the meetings/sporting events sector.
In case you missed it, here is a portion of that update...
- Hotel occupancy tax collections through Sept. 2020 are down ↓ $11.9 million (or 51.9%) from last calendar year-to-date (YTD).
- Prepared food and beverage tax collections through Sept. 2020 are down ↓ $6 million (or 25.1%) from last calendar YTD.
- Nearly 300 Bureau-booked conventions, meetings and group sporting events canceled, totaling $145.8 million in economic impact, though 41 conventions, meetings and group sporting events have been rescheduled for a future date, totaling $30.1 million in economic impact.
- More than 118 large-scale events and festivals have been canceled or rescheduled.
- Average hotel occupancy rates across Wake County remain around 40-45%.
“Most meetings and conventions, and the majority of business travel, will likely not return before the second quarter of 2021,” said Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of GRCVB. “However, we are optimistic that Nov. numbers will begin to show improvement as we are in full execution of the ‘Wish You Were Here’ tourism recovery plan and youth baseball, softball and soccer tournaments are returning across the county this month.”
Tax Collection Impact:
As a result of continued lower-than-normal visitation due to COVID-19 in the month of September and significantly lower room rates, hotel occupancy tax collections were down nearly 60% compared to Sept. 2019, bringing in almost $1.1 million. Prepared food and beverage (PFB) tax collections were also down 18.8% in Sept. 2020 compared to Sept. 2019, bringing in more than $2.2 million.
Calendar YTD (Jan. 1 through Sept. 30), hotel occupancy tax collections totaled more than $11 million, down nearly 52% from previous YTD. Prepared food and beverage tax collections totaled more than $18 million, down 25.1% from previous YTD.
Month-by-month each tax revenue stream has recovered significantly from their lows of March to May 2020. The prepared food and beverage tax collections (and thus our area's restaurant sales) have risen steadily each month since July 2020.
More on the Hotel Sector:
According to STR, Wake County remained above 40% hotel occupancy throughout the month of Sept. 2020. Group travel to the area has remained minimal, and weekly hotel occupancy throughout Wake County has plateaued around 45% throughout Oct. 2020.
Average weekly demand for area hotel rooms during the four weeks ending Nov. 7, 2020, was higher at 56,003 room-nights than during the previous four-week period (53,573 room-nights), however. There is optimism that overnight demand is strengthening between the lines of the weekly lodging data.
Self-help writers and psychologists often write than emotional maturity is being able to hold two contradictory ideas within your own mind at the same time and being able to live with both of them. That's rather where we are right now... by comparison to 2019 statistics, there is reason to feel dejected; by comparison to early 2020 stats, present indicators are positive.
We continue to be grateful for forward momentum in the state's plans to reopen safely, reengaging all economic sectors statewide, and we believe that area visitor demand can continue to rebound through cooperative destination marketing efforts that stress new safe practices, Count On Me NC certifications and social-distancing protocols.
Author: Jonathan Freeze, CDME
Jonathan Freeze, CDME, has built a career in the marketing of places, directing the Greater Raleigh CVB's marketing efforts since 2008. Though a firm believer in the science of marketing, Jonathan also began his career as a writer and creative wordsmith. In 2021, he contributed a chapter recounting recent destination stewardship work in Raleigh to the book Tourism Microentrepreneurship (Emerald Publishing). Learn more