Large events help Raleigh tourism rebound, but business travel slow to return

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – While the return of flagship events has brought thousands of visitors back to Raleigh, tourism experts say the city won’t see pre-pandemic tourism levels until business travel returns.

Major events that were canceled or moved online last year are finally making a comeback.

Thousands of people are now pouring into the North Carolina State Fair and earlier this month, bluegrass lovers lined five city blocks in Raleigh for the International Bluegrass Music Association Festival.

Loren Gold, executive vice president for Visit Raleigh, said the city won’t hit pre-pandemic tourism numbers with vacationers or one-time events alone.

“Leisure does make up our mix but it’s probably about a third of our total mix,” Gold said.

With more companies taking operations online, Gold said it’s business travel that has been slow to make a comeback in large cities like Raleigh.

“Business travel took a huge spike downward because companies were not sending their people on the road,” Gold said.

Counties with the state’s largest cities saw some of the biggest dips in visitor spending last year. Wake County visitors spent more than 42 percent less in 2020 than 2019.

Still, the latest data from Visit Raleigh shows food and beverage tax revenue is up 36 percent from last year and hotel occupancy is also up by 48 percent.

“They’re all up, it’s just a matter of getting back to pre-pandemic, 2019 levels,” Gold said.

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