HIGH POINT — North Carolina’s tourism industry has rebounded to exceed pre-pandemic levels of overall spending, but the rebound has been uneven, according to figures the N.C. Department of Commerce released this week.
In particular, spending remains down sharply for a segment of travelers important for the High Point area.
And because of inflation, despite higher spending some segments of the tourism economy still have lower income than before the pandemic.
Travelers spent more than $33.3 billion in 2022 on trips to and within the state, 14% more than the previous record of $29.22 billion spent in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, according to preliminary findings from annual research conducted by Tourism Economics on behalf of Visit North Carolina.
Because of the pandemic-related shutdowns and limits on travel and indoor gatherings, spending cratered by 31.7% in 2020 to less than $20 billion.
But the rebound since 2020 has been driven almost entirely by U.S. domestic travel spending, which first exceeded 2019’s pre-pandemic spending level in 2021.
Spending by international travelers — which is significant for High Point because those travelers had been accounting for about 10% of High Point Market attendance — remains down significantly from 2019, when it was more than $1.3 billion.
COVID-19 hit many foreign countries harder than it did the U.S., and the vaccines that became widely available in the U.S. in 2021 were not as widely available elsewhere.
International travel spending in North Carolina plummeted by almost 80% in 2020 to just $268.3 million.
There was a small rebound from that in 2021 and a much larger one in 2022, but overall spending by international visitors still reached just $910.1 million, still more than 30% below 2019.
The High Point Market Authority reported last summer that the number of international visitors from Canada and Mexico was growing strongly but that the number from Asia had not rebounded much from 2020.
At the spring 2023 Market, attendance from Asia continued to lag behind that from Canada, Central America, the Caribbean and the Middle East, said Ashley D. Grigg, the vice president of strategic growth and partnerships for the market authority.
“International registration for the spring 2023 High Point Market was down slightly from fall 2022 but up 3% from spring 2022,” she said.
Although overall spending by all travelers in 2022 was 14% higher than in 2019, that was unevenly distributed. For instance spending on auto transportation and lodging both were up by more than 30%, but spending on recreation was up just 6.4% and retail spending was up just 4.1%.
And because of inflation, the overall income realized by the tourism economy was up only 2% from 2019, $8.7 billion compared to $8.5 billion, and income actually was down for several segments of the industry: down 7.1% for planning, 3.1% for recreation and 2.3% for retail.
Complete findings from Tourism Economics, including county-by-county spending figures, should be available in a few months.
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