If the lack of parking and the heavy traffic at Wrightsville Beach on Monday afternoon are any indication, the looming hurricane that ended up missing the Cape Fear region didn't keep the tourists inland this Labor Day weekend.
Official numbers are not available yet, but area accommodations officials say despite the threat of the storm, tourists turned out for the sunny weekend.
“If anything, it drew people's attention to the beach that it was going to be a wonderful weekend,” said Jason St. Clair, general manager of the Blockade Runner on Wrightsville Beach.
Like the Blockade, some hotels in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties reported being fully booked for the holiday weekend despite Hurricane Earl. The storm threatened the East Coast all last week but spared the region Thursday as it headed north, brushing the Outer Banks.
That's not to say Earl didn't make a local impression.
Several out-of-town tourists waited until the last minute to book their trips, and some who had planned to come Thursday waited until Friday to be sure the storm had passed, area hotel officials said.
Anne Marie Hartman, general manager of the Holiday Inn Resort on Wrightsville Beach, said it ended up being just as busy as the Fourth of July weekend.
Buddy Rudd, vice president of Margaret Rudd and Associates Inc. in Oak Island, said the weekend turned out well “despite the Weather Channel trying to destroy it.”
Connie Nelson, communication and public relations director for the Wilmington Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, said out-of-state tourists might have gotten the impression from national media outlets that the entire North Carolina coast would be in Earl's path.
As soon as it was clear that Earl had passed without scathing the Cape Fear Coast, Nelson said, the bureau sent out news releases and notified people via social media that the area would be open for business.
“It's always a challenge to try to get the word out that everything's OK in spite of what people might have seen and what might have been implied in national media forecast,” she said.
Nelson expects to have surveys from hotels in New Hanover County back by late Tuesday to see how many people made it to the area.
The hope, she said, is that people booked at the last minute after they realized Earl was a nonevent.
That was the impression Tiffani Blowers got at Tiffany's Motel in Surf City. The reservationist said the motel got a lot of last-minute travelers.
“But it was beautiful out and everybody showed up,” she said, adding the motel was booked.
Nelson said this trend of waiting to book vacations until the last minute is not specific to Earl. She said in the past couple of years and this year especially, people are waiting to plan their trips. Because of this, the bureau has created a website called www.sunnysavers.com for local hotels to post last-minute deals.
Nelson said the trend is a product of the poor economy and people not knowing month to month if they can afford trips. She said the ability to track hotel availability online is also feeding the procrastination trend.
Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Mewww.KenKeegan.com