by Paige Terryberry
Senior Analyst for Fiscal Policy, John Locke Foundation
Gov. Cooper decreed state-wide lockdowns in March 2020. As a result, many North Carolinians were forced out of their jobs. The tourism industry, in particular, suffered. The state’s tourism industry lost more than half of its jobs in the first part of 2020 following lockdowns. The gradual lifting of some restrictions enabled some of those jobs to return, but jobs supported by tourism still were down 26% by the end of 2020 compared to the previous year.
Direct visitor spending in 2020 was down a destructive 32%, roughly $9 billion, from 2019, according to the newly released report from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
Tourism is key to the livelihood of North Carolina. Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders said of the industry, “More than 45,000 small businesses across North Carolina rely on what visitors spend, on everything from lodging and dining to transportation, recreation and retail. Jobs across all 100 counties need visitors to thrive.”
The economy was damaged, yet our state’s market share of visitors increased. North Carolina was the fifth most-visited state in 2020 – up from the sixth in recent years. Given that Gov. Cooper mandated the closure of indoor activities, the proportion of visitors who engaged in the state’s scenic outdoor activities (national parks, hiking, rock climbing) increased in 2020. As the supply of usual activities was restricted, visitors flocked to the spaces they were welcomed: the outdoors.