A damaged transmission line on the Outer Banks late last week led to blackouts on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands and prompted a mandatory evacuation of 50,000 visitors during the coastal tourist town’s busiest time of year. While businesses on Ocracoke and Hatteras will begin welcoming back tourist at noon Friday, they will still have to tally the economic loss. Those in the know say Ocracoke’s loss may be a very short term gain for Crystal Coast businesses. Jared Brumbaugh has more.
When visitors on Ocracoke were ordered to evacuate a week ago, they had to make a decision. Cut their vacation short or find a different place to play.
“They’ve taken the time off, they’ve saved up for a vacation. They’re going to go somewhere.”
Executive Director of the Carteret County Tourism Authority Carol Lohr believes that place is the Crystal Coast. In the days following the evacuation order, the Tourism Authority office in Morehead City received over 100 phone calls from evacuees wanting to prolong their vacation.
“We also have had our rental companies have called and our hotels have called so they’re getting calls from Ocracoke residents and also visitors that were leaving the island and needed a place to stay.”
Since most of our local hotels and inns at Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle were already booked for the summer, many latecomers were referred to rental companies, like Emerald Isle Realty, to find last minute accommodations. Reservation Sales Manager Katrina Brienza says they’ve registered over 30 new reservations from people affected by the power loss on Ocracoke. 24 families called immediately following the outage, last Friday and Saturday, and more calls have trickled in.
“It’s more money for our area basically, we just kind of took the misplaced people from Hyde County and brought them to Carteret County. So that impacts not only the vacation rental side of it, but it impacts restaurants, shops, local area attractions things like that.”
Brienza says it’s not the first time that tourists bound for the Outer Banks have been rerouted to the Crystal Coast.
“We have seen that in the past usually when there’s a hurricane and the road closes in the northern Outer Banks. Unfortunately, that happens a lot when we do get struck by a major hurricane. So we have seen those folks go ‘oh, it’s really nice here, it’s not as commercialized, it’s definitely more family oriented’ and they come back year after year.”
It’s not just rental companies noticing an increase. Attractions like the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort say they’ve had a definite uptick in visitors that were displaced from Ocracoke. Public Relations Coordinator David Cartier says he’s spoken with about 50 people who decided to spend the rest of their vacation time in Beaufort.
“We’ve seen people who had to come over by the ferry and they’ve never been to Beaufort before. And your heart goes out to them because they’re trying to figure out what to do for their vacation. They’ve spent a lot of money that they have tied up right now and they’re trying to make the best out of a very difficult situation. But we’ve seen visitors who’ve come in that have just asked questions about the area. They say we’re here, we hadn’t expected to be here, tell us what to do, tell us where to go, tell us where to eat.”
While Hyde County is in the process of collecting information from individuals and businesses to determine the full economic impact of the outage, other areas of the coast are experiencing a boon. Tourism Authority Executive Director Lohr estimates 10 to 20 thousand people planning to vacation on Ocracoke will come to Carteret County beaches instead.
“It will certainly mean an increase in our revenue. There’s no question about that, when people that have a sudden change in their vacation plans, they’ve taken the time off and they certainly want to continue spending time with family and so they’re going to want to go somewhere and we appreciate being here and offering that place to go.”
It’s too soon to determine exactly what economic impact additional visitation might have on hotels, restaurants and local businesses in Carteret County.
“If you think of a family coming down over nighting it’s going to be estimates $250 a day per family and that includes lodging, meals and perhaps attractions. Thankfully, most of our attractions are state owned so they’re free but I’d say thousands, thousands.”
The Crystal Coast has about 1.75 million visitors every year. Whatever economic boost additional visitors will have, Lohr says it will only be temporary.