Columbus spared worst of tourism pandemic drop off

By Thomas Sherrill, The News Reporter

Construction travel and campgrounds helped Columbus County fare better than many other locations in North Carolina in terms of visitor spending in 2020, Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Jennifer Holcomb said last week.

Visitor spending in the state dropped 32% last year, according to the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics. Columbus County’s impact numbers won’t be fully known until August, but Holcomb said the county was affected far less than many areas.

“We fared much better than many places in the state, especially because the majority of our occupancy is not leisure travel-related,” Holcomb said.

According to preliminary figures released by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, visitors to the state generated $3 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2020, a 26.6% decrease from the year before, and direct tourism payroll decreased 24.5% to $6.4 billion.

The most affected times in Columbus County during 2020 were early in the pandemic, going from March to June, Holcomb said.

“Our rural nature lends itself very well to recruiting the weekenders and vacationers,” Holcomb explained.

Construction travel also helped the numbers, with Holcomb mentioning the BB&T office construction and NCDOT projects, which continued during 2020.

Tourism dollars are beneficial for Columbus because, as Holcomb stated, visitors don’t burden local tax-funded resources.

“We love relocators and retirees, but those revenue generators put a drain on our resources. Tourists come; spend their money and leave. We’re proud of those dollars. Those dollars are used to support the economy, retail and service businesses,” Holcomb said.