A report released Aug. 18 by GRCVB revealed that Wake County welcomed 15.8 million visitors in 2021, a 23% increase over 2020. These nearly 16 million visitors who traveled to Wake County spent $2.3 billion in our community, a 40% increase over 2020. After numbers declined in 2020, both visitation and visitor spending recovered and grew steadily in 2021. GRCVB independently contracted with industry-leading travel and tourism research firm Tourism Economics to estimate these and other key tourism figures.

Visitor Volume:
Data showed just how significantly Wake County visitor volume was impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and closures during 2020. However, in 2021, travel confidence began rebounding due to vaccines and easing restrictions. With an increase of nearly three million visitors over the previous year, total visitation grew 22.6% over its 2020 volume. Travel that took place in 2021 leaned heavily towards leisure travel, at nearly 93%.

Visitor Spending:
Food and beverage sales accounted for $689 million or 29% of the $2.3 billion in visitor spending in 2021, followed by retail at $488 million and lodging at $487 million.

2021 numbers


Tax Revenue:
As a result of the overall $2.3 billion in visitor spending, $243 million in state and local tax revenues were generated by visitors in Wake County in 2021 as well. Tourism-generated tax receipts are used for education, school construction, water, sewer and other necessities as well as quality-of-life amenities for residents. In fact, the research showed each household in Wake County would pay an additional $592 in taxes without the funds provided to local and state governments through travel and tourism—showcasing just how valuable tourism remains to the local economy.

Two visitor-related taxes, the hotel occupancy and prepared food and beverage taxes both also saw increases in collections in 2021. Hotel occupancy tax collections totaled $22.67 million (up 58.6% over 2020) and prepared food and beverage tax collections totaled more than $34.15 million (up 36.2% over 2020).

Tourism and hospitality employment were the hardest hit sectors in both Wake County and across the nation in 2020 due to the pandemic. According to the research, tourism created work for 21,357 people in Wake County with a payroll of $689 million in 2021. This is a 22.5% increase in tourism and hospitality jobs over 2020. Although the number of jobs directly supported by visitors remains more than 6,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels, one out of every 23 Wake County jobs is supported by visitation. In many cases, these visitor customers can make the difference allowing our small businesses to remain open.

“With consumer confidence and disposable income increasing in 2021, the area experienced an uptick in leisure travel as well as sporting events and competitions. Thankfully, Wake County gave the Bureau additional American Rescue Plan Act Funds, which put our organization in a position to implement strategic and aggressive sales and marketing plans, helping us remain competitive in the marketplace,” said Dennis Edwards, president and CEO. “With continued buoyancy, lifting of more restrictions and the return of festivals, events, conventions and meetings to normal capacity, all indicators demonstrate we are on a continued growth trajectory in 2022 and the hospitality and tourism economy looks bright for Wake County.”