The North Carolina coast is a popular destination for visitors from states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but a majority of the visitors who come to enjoy the beach or take in the festivals and attractions come from other parts of the state.
According to a report released by the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development on 2013 travel trends in the state, just over 30 percent of all overnight visitors who traveled to destinations across North Carolina were from in-state.
The percentage increases to 40 percent for the coastal region.
But that’s not a surprise to Onslow County Tourism Director Theresa Carter.
The numbers may vary, but the trend is the same in other regions of North Carolina and in other states: when families head out on vacation, they are often traveling to see friends or family, who in many cases live within the same state borders.
“If you take two or three vacations a year, probably two of those three will be for a family function or to see someone you know,” Carter said.
In Onslow County, the beaches are a big draw, but the military connection is the top attraction as families travel to the area to visit those stationed here and for send-offs and homecomings before and after deployments.
Carter said people often travel in-state because they want to experience the places and events they know are around them. And North Carolina has a lot to offer, from the mountains to the coast.
“People want to see what’s in the state and what’s out there,” she said.
But the coastal beaches and attractions also draw an out-of-state crowd. In 2013, the top states of origin for overnight visitors to the coastal region included North Carolina, 40 percent; Virginia, 15 percent; Pennsylvania, 7 percent; New Jersey, 5 percent; and Texas, 5 percent.
The annual report provides each region of the state with research data that can be used in marketing their area.
According to the report, the Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville was the top advertising market of origin for overnight travelers to the coastal region in 2013, followed by Charlotte; Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem; Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; New York; Greenville-New Bern-Washington; Washington D.C.; Pittsburgh; and Richmond-Petersburg, Virginia.
Carter said the Raleigh-area has traditionally been a big focus for Onslow County.
“Raleigh is about two hours to the beach, and we’re one of the closest beaches to them, so it’s always been a good idea to saturate that market,” she said.
She said that they are fortunate that many beach visitors are repeat visitors, families who plan vacations to the same location each year.
But as the military downsizes and the number of deployments decrease, Carter said they more recently have had to work on ways to fill the hotel rooms around the Jacksonville area.
“That’s going to be a challenge; that’s what we’ve been working on,” she said.
Carter said they are doing a little more advertising in Southern Living to reach outside markets and more internet marketing may help reach military personnel who may have lived in the area and want to return to visit.
Despite the changes, the military connection remains a contributor to tourism in the area.
Donna Hammonds, executive director of the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said they get a lot of requests for information from visitors who are coming to the area to see family stationed at or retired from service at Camp Lejeune or Cherry Point.
“They are coming to see the family and they want to know what there is to see and do while they are here,” she said.
The Swansboro chamber has a contract with the Swansboro Tourism Development Authority, which was established in 2011, to help implement marketing opportunities for the town.
Spreading the word about Swansboro includes print advertising in magazines such as Our State, the News & Observer newspaper and visitor guides that are distributed to visitor centers across the state.
The visitswansboro.org website also includes information about activities, events and accommodations.
From tracking the online requests for visitor guides, Hammonds said they have had requests from all over, including Canada and Germany. The top states they get requests from are Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Marketing efforts by area tourism groups include traditional print media and television, as well as websites and the growing use of social media.
Carter said keeping up with the different outlets and maintaining a variety can be a challenge, but one of the biggest hurdles in marketing the area may be the funding to do so.
Onslow County Tourism has a budget of about $100,000 to spend on advertising.
In comparison, Carter said, as much as $3 million is spent on marketing the Outer Banks and $1 million or so to the south in the Wilmington area.
The report also found that about 84 percent of all domestic visitors came to the coastal regional for pleasure, 9 percent to conduct business and remaining visitors indicating “other” as a reason for visiting the coast.
Overnight visitors to the coastal region spent an average of 3.3 nights in the region in 2013 and 91 percent of them traveled by car or other vehicle.
While the different organizations work to promote their individual areas, they also work together to promote the coast through initiatives such as the Coast Host organization.
While visiting Onslow County, people are also central to attractions and locations such as Tryon Palace in New Bern, Fort Macon in Atlantic Beach or downtown Wilmington.
“If people are here visiting for a week they want to know the different places they can go,” Hammonds said. “We try to promote all the area.”