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Tourism Forecasts Underscore the Devastating Impact of COVID-19 on Durham’s Local Economy

Annual Visitation Numbers for 2019 Released, Starkly Contrast Occupancy Rates in 2020

(DURHAM, N.C.) August 12, 2020Discover Durham reports that a record-breaking 12.5 million visitors came to Durham, NC in 2019, a 2.7% increase over 2018. The results of the annual study conducted by Longwoods International, a research firm specializing in travel and tourism data, outline the importance of travel and tourism to Durham’s local economy. Visitors in 2019 spent a record-high $932 million dollars across lodging, transportation, food and beverage, retail, and entertainment sectors, a number that is anticipated to drop significantly following the emergence of COVID-19.

“Up to this point, the growth of the tourism and hospitality industries in Durham was outpacing the national average, with steady year-over-year growth since the Great Recession,” said Susan Amey, Discover Durham President and CEO. “Durham’s vibrancy has attracted more and more visitors as the travelers in turn spent more and more to fuel local business. A healthy tourism market creates and sustains jobs, expands our tax base, and supports the quality of life of our residents – all of which is in jeopardy as we have to stay at home during this time.”

Projections originally forecasted 12.8 million guests would travel to Durham in 2020, pushing spending up to $978 million. Updated national forecasts predict a decline for the tourism sector of 45% compared to 2019 figures, which would yield only 6.9 million visitors for the Bull City, and visitor spending of $512.6 million, a loss of $419 million versus prior year. In 2019 visitors also generated $106 million in state and local taxes, which is projected to decline to only $58.3 million in 2020, resulting in a loss of $47.7 million for state and local government. Prior to COVID-19, there were 12,836 visitor-related jobs created by the tourism industry, roughly 5% of Durham’s entire workforce. An estimated half of those jobs have since been lost, by far the industry hardest hit and business segment experiencing the highest loss in Durham.

“The tourism sector at large isn’t expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024, so there’s an immediate, serious need to find ways for hospitality businesses to survive,” said Amey. “Many are in a fight for their lives. The time is now for the agencies in Durham to work together for economic recovery, in a safe and responsible way, to proactively approach the rebuilding of the local hospitality industry before we lose more businesses. Durham has already been proactive in many ways to fight this pandemic, so I’m optimistic we can shoulder what’s going to be needed to keep making progress. We need to agree, quickly, on actionable steps to rebuild the workforce, safely attract people to our destination, and help businesses get back on their feet.

“I have seen the passion in Durham leaders to build Durham back better than it was before, with a real focus on doing so through a racial equity lens. Hospitality businesses are a critical part of that: many are owned and managed by women and people of color, and the primary prerequisite for entering the industry isn’t a four-year degree; it’s a customer-service attitude and the self-discipline to show up every day as your best self. I know Durhamites can do that.

“We’re also urging the local community not to underestimate the strength we have to keep Durham businesses intact; as conditions allow us to get back out in the community, a concerted focus on patronizing local shops, restaurants, and even staycations in our hotels will help Durham bounce back faster."

About Discover Durham:

Discover Durham tells Durham, North Carolina’s story to attract visitors and drive economic progress. As Durham’s official tourism marketing and sales agency, it promotes the strategic economic and cultural development of Durham as a visitor destination. Discover Durham markets the community to millions of people each year, helping new and returning guests get off the beaten path and experience something new. Discover Durham also operates the Durham Sports Commission, which drives sports tourism in Durham. Discover Durham’s work helps fuel sales at local businesses, creates jobs, generates tax revenues, and enhances quality of life for our residents. For more information about Durham, visit www.discoverdurham.com, or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Media Contact:
Veda Gilbert