RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) — Visitor spending in 2021 rose in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties, according to a new report released Wednesday from the N.C. Department of Commerce. Among the counties that saw the biggest increase was Beaufort County.

Beaufort County’s spending increases by visitors from 2020 were third highest (71%) among the top five counties (Gates, 83%), Buncombe (81%), Moore (70%) and Alexander (68%). The new report can be seen on the North Carolina Department of Commerce website. The preliminary findings reflect the economic impact of tourism on local economies across the state, and come from an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“The strong economic results for one of our most vital industries speak to the resilience of our local tourism partners and to the state’s enduring appeal,” said North Carolina Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “We celebrate the qualities that make North Carolina an attractive destination and are inspired by the people who provide visitors to our state an outstanding travel experience.”

The visitor spending study, commissioned by VisitNC and conducted by Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association, provides preliminary estimates of domestic and international traveler expenditures as well as employment, payroll income, and state and local tax revenues directly generated by these expenditures. The statistical model draws on detailed data from VisitNC as well as data derived from federal and state government sources, nationally known private and non-profit travel organizations, and other travel industry sources.

Other key findings from the study:

  • Strong recovery was seen statewide compared to 2020 with visitor spending across the state up 45 percent. Each of the state’s 100 counties experienced increases in spending from 2020 to 2021.
  • Mecklenburg County received $4.1 billion (up 46 percent) in traveler expenditures to lead all 100 counties. For the first time, Buncombe County ranked second with $2.6 billion (up 81 percent), followed by Wake County with $2.3 billion (up 40 percent), Dare County with $1.8 billion (up 30 percent) and Guilford County with $1.3 billion (up 52 percent) in visitor spending. 
  • Seventy-five counties had 2021 spending that topped 2019’s record sums. Four of these counties had spending up 50 percent or more from two years ago: Warren County (up 68 percent), Stokes County (up 66 percent), Madison County (up 59 percent) and Alexander County (up 57 percent).
  • Mecklenburg County had the largest number of direct tourism employees (28,438), an increase of nearly 6 percent from 2020. Three other counties had more than 10,000 direct tourism employees: Wake (21,357, up 23 percent), Buncombe (18,278, up 31 percent) and Dare (12,295, up 4 percent). 
  • Top counties for percentage increases in tourism employment were Buncombe (up 31 percent), Gates (up 25 percent), Wake (up 23 percent), Cabarrus (up 21 percent) and Alexander (up 20 percent).

As previously reported, domestic travel statewide reached new heights in 2021, though international visitation lagged. The spending total of $28.9 billion fell about 1 percent below the record set in 2019. The sum represents a 45 percent increase from pandemic-stricken 2020.

“Just as we’re gratified by the achievement statewide in 2021, the county-level report underscores the value of each destination,” said Wit Tuttell, director of Visit NC. “This is where travelers experience the state, from its natural beauty to the character of our people. It’s also the heart of the economic impact, the sustenance for thousands of businesses and local governments. We look forward to raising the arc even higher as we welcome more people to places they won’t find anywhere else.”

Full tables can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies.