Thursday, October 7, 2021

County-Level Visitor Spending Report for 2020 Released

Raleigh, N.C.
Oct 7, 2021

New data from a research study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association provides visitor spending totals in all 100 North Carolina counties for 2020.  Information from the study, first released in May of this year, previously showed statewide visitor spending dropped 32 percent last year, due primarily to the public health emergency created by the COVID-19 coronavirus.  The new data shows revenue losses were felt most keenly in urban areas, with some smaller destinations seeing gains.

The spending report was commissioned by Visit North Carolina, the state’s tourism promotion unit, and is published on an annual basis.  The findings are considered preliminary and reflect the economic impact of tourism on each of the state’s 100 counties.

Mecklenburg County led the state in visitor spending ($2.8 billion) and direct tourism employment (26,940).  North Carolina’s statewide spending totaled $19.96 billion, as reported in May. The Mecklenburg figures also represent the most substantial pandemic impacts of any of the state’s 100 counties: 51 percent in visitor spending and 45 percent in job losses. In contrast, visitor spending from 2019 to 2020 increased in 14 counties with the largest gain (32 percent) occurring in Warren County.

“The advances are well worth celebrating in the counties that saw increases in visitor spending,” said Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “While the overall findings of this study confirm what we already knew about the pandemic’s effect, what’s even more clear is we must all continue to work with Visit NC and other tourism leaders statewide to inspire visitation, to build confidence in our efforts to make travel here as safe as possible, and to restore an industry that benefits every part of North Carolina.”

The visitor spending study, commissioned by Visit NC and conducted by the U.S. Travel Association in collaboration with Tourism Economics, 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 Visit NC as well as data derived from federal and state government sources, nationally known private and non-profit travel organizations, and other travel industry sources.

Key findings from the study:

  • Visitors (domestic and international) to North Carolina spent $19.96 billion statewide in 2020, a decrease of 32 percent from 2019.
  • Eighty-six of the state’s 100 counties experienced decreases in visitor spending.
  • Counties that had increased spending were Warren (+32%), Greene (+21%), Yancey (+16%), Clay (+14%), Stokes (+11%), Polk (+9%), Northampton (+9%), Pender (+8%), Ashe (+6%), Alleghany (+4%), Rutherford (+4%), Jones (+4%), Currituck (+3%) and Tyrrell counties (+2%).
  • Despite large losses for many, top counties for spending in 2020 were similar to previous years. They were: Mecklenburg ($2.8 billion), Wake ($1.7 billion), Buncombe ($1.5 billion), Dare ($1.4 billion), Guilford ($849 million), Brunswick ($731 million), New Hanover ($598 million), Durham ($549 million), Forsyth ($527 million) and Carteret ($487 million) counties.
  • Statewide tourism employment for 2020 totaled 178,685. The figure represents a 26 percent decrease from 2019.
  • Twenty counties had increases in employment related to visitor spending in 2020: Warren, Greene, Clay, Stokes, Ashe, Yancey, Alleghany, Pender, Macon, Northampton, Jones, Polk, Rutherford, Montgomery, Tyrrell, Dare, Carteret, Madison, Currituck and Swain.
  • As expected, metropolitan counties had the largest decreases in direct tourism employment (Mecklenburg, Guilford, Wake, Durham, Orange, Cabarrus and Forsyth).


“Despite this report’s bad news, we’re encouraged that North Carolina ranks fifth among states for visitation,” said Visit NC Director Wit Tuttell. “This is a position of strength for rebuilding our tourism economy. Given the state’s resilience and vast appeal of its natural beauty, our creative cities and our authentic experiences at every turn, we’re confident that we’ll regain what has been lost and exceed the spending records of the recent past.

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Margo Metzger
(919) 413-8884

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