In places such as Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, with some businesses cutting back hours or shutting down altogether for the season. In Myrtle Beach, even some McDonald’s close as the days get shorter and cooler weather and home responsibilities replace summer fun.
In Fayetteville, however, the tourism economy is less of a roller-coaster and more of a consistent ride, officials say.
“The travel seasons here don’t have the peaks and valleys that a beach or mountain community might,” according to Shari Fiveash, president and CEO of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber. “We are more steady. Not just because of the mild climate, but because of the military influence. The travel reports show Fayetteville above the national average in occupancy over the past 18 months.”
Melody Foote, communications director for the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (FACVB), agrees.
“We are not a seasonal destination,” Foote told the Greater Fayetteville Business Journal on Tuesday. “We have relatively stable visitation numbers throughout the year.”
That consistency helps the Fayetteville area smooth its tourism and event traffic.
And while it wasn’t immune to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fayetteville appears to have quickly recovered from the lockdowns and shutdowns that left some places shuttered. In fact, according to research from Smith Travel, Cumberland County hotels were busier in 2021 than they were in 2019.
In July 2019, for example, the occupancy rate for local hotels was nearly 67 percent. In 2020 and the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number dipped to 59 percent. And not only did hotel occupancy bounce back this year, the rate was over 73 percent, easily outdistancing 2019’s level.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that the pandemic hasn’t been at the forefront of the tourism and events business. Following state and local guidelines has been a priority all along and remains so today.
“Our (decisions) to hold events and which ones to hold has definitely been impacted,” Fiveash said. “We are very cognizant of safety protocols.”
Playing it safe has affected not only tourists and other visitors, but also the chamber itself.
“Today we held our Business Networking Breakfast,” Fiveash said Tuesday. “Normally the count is over 100, but due to the safety measures in place, the event was capped at 45.”
Fiveash said that some events and meetings still are not being held in person if it is in the best interest of the chamber’s membership.
She also pointed out that hotel occupancy doesn’t tell the complete story about the economic impact visitors have on Fayetteville. Hotel occupancy is only a snapshot, Fiveash said.
“As with many destinations, 60 percent of our visitors say their reason for visiting is to see friends and relatives. Many may stay in private homes for that purpose.”
So what continues to draw tourists to the Fayetteville area? Both Fiveash and Foote agree that the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) continues to lead the way.
“ASOM is a large draw year round,” Fiveash said.
Foote said the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Dirtbag Ales, ZipQuest and Carvers Creek State Park are also among the top attractions.
And so far in 2021, a cautious approach with a focus on safety protocols has paid off.
“We have not had any events that we booked for this year cancel,” Foote said. “It was far different in March of 2020, when we had to cancel nearly every event.”
Cumberland County hotel occupancy
May -- 71.4 percent
June -- 69.3 percent
July -- 66.6 percent
August -- 65.2 percent
May -- 45.8 percent
June -- 54.9 percent
July -- 59.1 percent
August -- 59.6 percent
May -- 73.2 percent
June -- 74.3 percent
July -- 74.3 percent
August -- not yet reported
Source: Smith Travel
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