It’s been a dazzling spring for Moore County’s hospitality industry. Area hotels and short-term rentals have made such a strong comeback that occupancy tax revenues are now on trend for a record-breaking year.
“Based on what I’m seeing and hearing, the destination is packed,” said Phil Werz, CEO of the Pinehurst Southern Pines Aberdeen Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). “I feel confident from what we know is on the books this month, we will surpass $2 million this year. “Thank God for golf. It is driving the destination right now.” A year ago, things were decidedly less optimistic. Hoteliers were coping with a precipitous drop in revenue beginning in early March with the spread of COVID-19 across the state. That dynamic changed little over the next nine months.
The pendulum began to swing back not long after the Christmas holidays.
“In January we had an all-time high for January room tax collections. That was the first real indication that the recovery was taking hold,” Werz said.
March and April figures were even better, breaking previous occupancy tax collection records by double-digits.
“There is pent-up demand and people wanting to travel. We are a rural county where it’s easier to socially distance and restrictions have been reduced. And there’s been a resurgence nationally for golf. These are all factors,” Werz said.
One unresolved challenge is the staffing shortage felt across the entire service industry. Local restaurants have been the hardest hit, but hotels have not been immune to the struggle. “We don’t derive occupancy tax from restaurants but they have a huge impact on the destination and they are a huge part of our story,” Werz said. “I know many of our businesses cannot stay open as long as they want to because of these shortages. This is one of the last hurdles we have to cross. We need to get back to those (pre-pandemic) staffing levels.
“You want visitors to have a good experience. I know the state is trying to address this problem. But when it comes to a destination that depends on hospitality in a big way, it is definitely a concern.” Looking ahead to summer golf events, Pinehurst Resort is readying for over 500 players participating in the 2021 High School Golf National Invitational at the end of the month. Shortly thereafter, the Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC) will host the 73rd U.S. Junior Amateur, billed as the “U.S. Open for junior golf.” A total of 264 players are expected to compete in July.
The U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, followed closely by the U.S. Kids Golf Teen Championship, returns in late July-early August, bringing hundreds of junior players and their families to the area.
“The pandemic is over in terms of tourism in this destination. Leisure travel is what is driving it. Yes, group travel is still down and may not come back to the early part of next year. But leisure travel is filling in,” Werz said. “Maybe the pandemic has taught us some lessons and maybe that mix of business and leisure travel will shift again.
“We’ve been targeting a tight circumference of travelers but I expect there will be a lot of adjustment in a lot of destinations based on where travel demand comes from and where travelers want to go in the future,” he added. “We are not an anomaly, but we are different from most destinations.”