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  • Writer's pictureJaime Pennington

Tourism Numbers Down: A sign of things to come?

Updated: Jul 2

The Dare County Tourism Board has reported a nearly 25% decrease in occupancy tax for this past April as compared to April last year. Is that a sign of things to come? I took a deeper dive into the data and the trends we’ve been seeing in hopes of gaining more insight.

Chart of April Gross Occupancy Tax Dollars Reported  Year over Year from 2011 through 2024

This chart tracks April year over year occupancy taxes from 2011 through 2024. Pre-Pandemic (2011-2019), we can see a consistent trend with natural fluctuations based on the overall health of the economy. Then COVID hit and everything shut down, causing drastic decline in numbers for 2020.


There was a major shift if lifestyle as things began to reopen in 2021, bringing about what’s referred to by many as the Unicorn Years. Remote work became the norm, travel abroad was limited, and the demand for vacation rentals on the Outer Banks skyrocketed. Property owners clamored to cash in on this demand by placing their properties with vacation rental companies, Airbnb, VRBO, etc. Many homes, which were traditionally long-term rentals, transitioned into vacation rentals, exasperating the local housing shortage.


With the Dare County Tourism numbers down, where are we headed now? Are we seeing a post-pandemic correction back to our pre-pandemic norm? Is this a natural downturn due to high inflation and a struggling economy? Maybe it’s a combination of both. Much of this remains to be seen.


What I can say, is many vacation rental owners are seeing a slump in bookings. Smaller homes (4 bedrooms and under) on the West side of the bypass have been particularly hard hit. Many of these owners are trying to supplement their vacation rental income with longer-term off-season rentals or even transitioning over fully to long-term rentals. If this trend continues, it will bring a much needed boost to the inventory of housing for locals. Only time will tell, but we are certainly keeping a close eye on these changes and stand ready to assist property owners make the most of their investment in what we hope to be an improved long-term rental market.

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