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What is the next normal for tourism in Wake County? 2020’s impact and a look ahead.

Michael Robson/visitRaleigh.com

What’s next for Wake County tourism and our local restaurants and entertainment venues?

The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau’s annual meeting included a look at the impact of 2020 and what’s next.

The Thursday hybrid in-person and virtual event included numbers from the Wake County-wide report and a panel on “The Next Normal” with four industry leaders.

The pandemic’s effect on tourism

After 10 years of steady increases, the tourism numbers in 2020 were predictably lower, due to the pandemic. Here’s the impact to the Raleigh + Wake County area:

Number of people and spending was down in 2020: The number of people visiting decreased 29% compared to 2019. A total of 12.9 million visitors came to Wake County in 2020.

Visitors spent less, a 43% decrease from 2019.

Business travel disappeared, more families traveled for the day or longer. While corporate travel was heavily effected, more people traveled together and stayed longer as more families visited the Raleigh area.

Local jobs lost in 2020: While other figures dipped to 2011 or 2012 levels, tourism-related employment in 2020 decreased to 2010 levels, the GRCVB shared. Nearly 40% of tourism jobs were lost in 2020, about 10,600 jobs.

When we could expect recovery: There is optimism in GRCVB president and CEO Dennis Edwards’ report. Business travel is expected to return, but not at full levels until 2024. Leisure travel is expected to return to higher levels by the first half of 2023.

Looking ahead: Insights from the panel

Experts in hospitality and leaders at local venues shared what they expect and hope from ‘The Next Normal.’

Expect vaccination and testing requirements to grow.

Panelists Kerry Painter of the Raleigh Convention & Performing Arts Complex and Larry B. Perkins at PNC Arena both said they expect the number of venues and artists requiring an environment of vaccinated attendees to become more of a norm.

Some performers have set the requirements, Painter said.

While leisure travel helped, a business travel rebound will be important.

Pent-up demand from a leisure travel standpoint was a huge part of recovering up to this point, said panelist Kevin McAteer of Concord Hospitality. Corporate travel is the next piece to return.

Planning for the future is important now, Painter said.

The pandemic put a lot of things put on hold, but it takes 5-8 years to get a hotel, she said. We should look to the future of Raleigh now, or we’ll be behind.

Hospitality will be different. Angela Salamanca, chef and owner of Centro and Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria. Staffing continues to be an issue for food and beverage businesses.

“It was a thing prior to Covid but now it’s become so acute,” she said. The future includes taking better care of staff members.

Learn more: Read a report on the numbers here, and see a recap of the event by the GRCVB here.

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Author: raleighconvergence

Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is the editor of Raleigh Convergence.

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