The future of tourism in Carteret County following the coronavirus pandemic

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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – The tourism industry on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast is used to dealing with disasters. It’s survived hurricanes, but now it’s dealing with something new, the coronavirus pandemic.

In the last two years, Linda Thornley and the Bask Hotel have been through two hurricanes. Hurricane Florence in 2018 tore off the hotel’s roof. The owners chose to take it down to the studs and rebuild.

The storm flooded Silver Line Jewelry on Evans Street.

Meanwhile, workers at Ruddy Duck Tavern left for better jobs elsewhere and forced the restaurant owner, Fabian Botta to cut back on hours.

“We couldn’t open on Mondays. We lost a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars just for that,” said Botta.

Despite the constant rebuilding, there was a small glimmer of hope for the local economy. Carteret County Economic Development Director Don Kirkman says tourism increased in the months after Florence. The county brought in $377 million from tourism in 2018.

But now businesses are facing a new obstacle, the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of closing, the Bask Hotel has shifted their strategy, marketing to essential workers.

“We went to the hospital to see what they need. We went to the port to see what they need,” said Thornley, corporate director of operations for Crown Hotel and Travel Management.

At Silver Line Jewelry, owner Thomas Flynn looked at closing the businesses’ doors. But the shop stayed open. Flynn’s store now alerts customers to social distancing guidelines, limits how many are inside, and reduces person-to-person contact.

The state is preparing for phase two. The Ruddy Duck Tavern will allow customers to pick up meals at the county and take them to their seats, or to go.

Botta and his business partner feel it’s the right decision to keep their doors open and everyone safe.

“You just wonder you know with the age my partner and I are at whether we can do this or not,” Botta.

Business owners agree, COVID-19 is more difficult than Florence, but their resiliency isn’t letting them give up that easily. ​

“We are survivors, we believe in what we do and hopefully we all learn from this and we’ll get back to normal one day in the future,” said Botta.

Crystal Coast leaders say they are waiting to see the pandemic’s full impact on businesses over the last two months. The county’s economic development director is confident they will make a full recovery.

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