In celebration of the return of travel, the recovery of the region’s tourism industry and the thousands of businesses and individuals who make up Charlotte, North Carolina’s visitor economy, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) is recognizing the 39th annual National Travel and Tourism Week. This year’s theme, “The Future of Travel,” spotlights the critical role that travel plays in driving economic growth, helping to restore the workforce, facilitate recovery, foster sustainability, and reconnect travelers within the U.S. and beyond.
Prior to the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Charlotte region’s travel and tourism industry had experienced 10 consecutive years of growth, generating $7.8 billion in direct visitor spending, employing 147,000 residents and producing more than $125 million in hospitality tax collections in 2019. Now, following the most challenging two years the industry has ever faced, the future of Charlotte’s visitor economy is rebounding strongly, outpacing pre-pandemic numbers in several areas, and setting the stage for impressive future performances in others.
“As the leader of Charlotte’s visitor economy, we are proud to represent the resilient community of businesses and individuals whose unyielding grit, dedication and optimism have carried our region’s hospitality industry through the past two years,” said Tom Murray, CEO of the CRVA. “As one of the region’s largest industries, a healthy tourism sector is a major driver of Charlotte’s economic vitality–and the momentum we’ve been building has the future of travel in Charlotte looking strong.”
Domestic tourism has experienced steady recovery over the course of the past year, with the leisure travel sector leading the way. Consistent with overarching industry trends, the Charlotte region’s leisure sector has not only seen full recovery, but surpassed pre-pandemic performance levels in 2021. Beyond the record-setting leisure and weekend demand, business and group travel sectors are trending up as well – as of last month, group business booked in Charlotte for the next 18 months exceeds pre-pandemic totals by 40 percent, with more group rooms sold in April than in any month since February 2019.
As of March, Charlotte’s hotel demand recovery is ranked seventh of the top 25 U.S. markets, which can be largely attributed to the ongoing efforts of the CRVA and its tourism partners during the pandemic. Over the course of the pandemic, the CRVA launched several campaigns and initiatives designed to both support the local hospitality industry and leverage pent up travel demand to build interest and attract travelers to Charlotte. Since March 2020, the CRVA’s paid marketing campaigns have directly resulted in 300,000 room nights and $42.4m in hotel revenue.
Much like leisure and weekend visitation, the food and beverage sector has not only strongly rebounded, but surpassed pre-pandemic performance. Bars and restaurants in Mecklenburg County saw more than $3.95 billion in gross sales in 2021, $1.15 billion more than 2020 and $150 million more than 2019.
The industry’s employment numbers are also steadily climbing, employing approximately 124,600 jobs in 2021–a 6.1 percent increase over 2020. As of March, regional tourism industry employment was 128,300–an increase of approximately 5 percent when compared to the 2021 average, but still 8.5 percent below the employment rate of March 2020.
Also in conjunction with National Travel and Tourism Week, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper shared the preliminary visitor spending findings from a study commissioned by Visit North Carolina and conducted by Tourism Economics, which indicates tremendous recovery for the statewide tourism industry. North Carolina’s nearly-45 million visitors last year generated $28.9 billion in visitor spending – a 45 percent increase from 2020 spending and just 1 percent less than the record set in 2019. For a second consecutive year, North Carolina ranked fifth in domestic visitation.
Historically Mecklenburg County has served as the number one destination in the state in terms of visitor spending, representing 20 percent of all domestic travelers’ expenditures in the state prior to the pandemic. In 2021, 5.8 million rooms were sold in Mecklenburg County, 38.4 percent more than in 2020, but 17.1 percent fewer rooms than in 2019. Those 5.8 million rooms produced hotel revenue of $575.8 million, up 51.4 percent from 2020, but still 29.3 percent lower than 2019.
For more information, visit www.crva.com.