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Tourism Director: Advance reservations for summer "really strong"

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ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. -

Miles of coastline without a soul in sight. Many eastern North Carolina natives know where to go to find it, but will tourists also be looking for paradise in the east?

The start of the summer tourism season is still a couple months away, but it's a big deal for beach towns.

Despite budget cuts and spiking gas prices, people are still flocking to our beaches.

Traffic was backed up when 9 On Your Side drove down around noon Friday. It's bad news for drivers, but great news for tourism along the Crystal Coast.

Earlier today 9 On Your Side caught up with the tourism director who said you won't believe where they're coming from.

From Maryland to Michigan, Ohio and even Texas, no distance seems too far for people looking to "have fun" at the Crystal Coast.

"We'll be getting people from Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and, of course, the DC market," said Carol Lohr, Crystal Coast Tourism Authority Exec. Director.

She should know. She's been watching them drive in for more than 20 years. Lohr says the short drive from the beach, to Fort Macon to the Maritime Museum is one of the biggest draws.

"The historic area in Beaufort and of course at Fort Macon and we have a great aquarium here over in Pine Knoll Shores and we have a giant inflatable crab in the front yard to encourage people to go see that," said Lohr.

But it took more than a monstrous crab and an egg-loving bunny to draw drivers.

The AAA reports a 16 cent decrease in gas prices and pleasant weather are positively impacting travel. Also helping is the Easter holiday weekend, which comes one week earlier than last year.

"Right now, advance reservations for the season are really strong so we feel like the whole summer season is going to be great," said Lohr.

AAA says spring breakers are the main tourists during the Easter holiday weekend.

9 On Your Side caught up with some students that traveled all the way from the University of Akron Ohio.

"It's a lot nicer than Ohio. A lot better weather right now," said Steve Wade.

"We don't really have an aquarium in Ohio and this is a new experience. We plan on going to the fort too," said Nate Leahy.

That bumper-to-bumper traffic will probably continue through most of the weekend which is looking to be not too bad weather-wise.

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