Year in Review

2018: The Year in Review

North Carolina's tourism industry achieved record performance in 2018, with estimated visitor spending at an all-time high of $25.3 billion in direct spending, a 5.6 percent increase from 2017. Spending by travelers directly supported more than 230,000 jobs for North Carolinians, setting yet another record. Additionally, payroll income generated more than $6.3 billion. Visitor spending generated more than $2.0 billion in state and local tax revenues for reinvestment in communities all across North Carolina.

Source: U.S. Travel Association

Partnerships with destinations, attractions, lodging and dining properties and associations statewide remain key to North Carolina's success. Effective collaboration within the tourism industry contributed to North Carolina maintaining its position as the nation’s sixth most-visited state.

Source: TNS TravelsAmerica

Program Highlights for 2018

Employment generated by travelers in North Carolina increased 2.2 percent in 2018. These travel-related jobs comprised 5.3 percent of total non-agricultural employment in North Carolina during 2018.

Source: U.S. Travel Association

On an average day in 2018, visitors in North Carolina spent more than $69 million and contributed more than $5.6 million in state and local taxes.

Source: U.S. Travel Association

Visit North Carolina was an early adopter of Arrivalist, a location-based attribution tool that tracks digital advertising exposures and then corresponding arrivals to the state. Visit NC’s owned digital and paid digital media generated a 43.8 percent Arrival Lift. This means those who saw Visit North Carolina’s owned and paid digital media have a 43.8 percent higher arrival rate to the state than a similar audience who didn’t see our digital media but came on their own. Following the spring 2018 TV flight in six key markets, reports showed a 69.7 percent Arrival Lift -- demonstrating the impact of TV combined with online digital media.

2018 represented a continuation of the strategic evolution for Visit North Carolina’s brand. Building upon the successful promotional efforts of 2017, Visit North Carolina continued to market to its newly defined audience and showcase its repositioned brand to be even more effective moving forward. Visit North Carolina remains committed to focusing on its new core target which research identified as the medium affinity, never-visited traveler – which represents the highest opportunity for new visitation and visitor spending based on a high rate of repeat travel to the state once someone has visited. Articulating what is most motivating, differentiating and compelling to that audience, Visit North Carolina completed the evolution of its brand strategy to “Richer Experiences,” where travelers feel and experience every moment to the fullest to truly feel more in touch with themselves in North Carolina.

To execute our “Richer Experiences” brand strategy, Visit North Carolina found real first-time visitors – not actors – and captured them experiencing some of life’s most awesome firsts in North Carolina, a state with an endless supply of opportunities to experience firsts and discover the state’s natural beauty and authenticity.

There’s something magical about firsts — first impressions, first kisses, first finish lines crossed.

The enchantment of experiencing something for the very first time is what inspired the North Carolina

Firsts That Last campaign. It’s a feeling that never gets old in North Carolina. In fact, with Firsts That Last, richer experiences were more fully integrated into the messaging strategy so visitors feel an emotional connection with themselves, the breathtaking land that surrounds them, the compassionate locals they encounter at every turn, and especially those they are traveling with. When visitors experience something for the first time in North Carolina, it makes a connection — and a memory — that lasts forever.

Visit North Carolina reached travelers in all stages of the planning and conversion funnel, including target market broadcast and digital tactics to drive awareness and affinity; seasonal digital campaigns driving awareness, site traffic and downstream conversion across display, native and paid social advertising; and always-on demand-capture paid search. ended 2018 with 6.619 million user sessions. These sessions drove 1.54 million downstream web referrals and 96,975 phone calls to North Carolina travel industry partners.

Social media continued its growth in 2018, with followers across Visit NC Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels reaching more than 373,000 followers, a 15 percent growth year-over-year. 2018 saw 10 million engagements from organic social, a 106 percent increase from 2017. Paid social media is a powerful and efficient tool to further promote Visit NC content in-platform and on, and helped lead a 110 percent increase in social referral traffic, with more than 1.6 million sessions.

Proactive public relations efforts expanded Visit North Carolina’s outreach to key audiences with
a program that generated more than 4.2 billion consumer impressions across the United States
and internationally.

Cooperative marketing programs with NC travel industry partners coupled with our effective partnerships with in-state media associations resulted in an estimated $9 million in incremental direct investment, in-kind support and value added brand exposure for North Carolina both within and outside the state.

The North Carolina Film Office continued to attract productions to film in the state. The year saw the continuation and maturity of the state’s rebate program, which is monetized by the recently created Film and Entertainment Grant. For the 2018 calendar year, productions were estimated to have had a direct in-state spend of more than $55 million while creating in excess of 4,100 job opportunities including 1,442 for the state’s well-trained crew professionals. Among the many 2018 highlights were the filming of the pilot episodes of Reprisal and Swamp Thing--both of which were picked up to full seasons orders that filmed in 2019 in the state--new seasons of Love It or List It, A Chef’s Life, Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks, My Big Fat Fabulous Life, Toymakerz, and new series Race Night at Bowman Gray as well as Racing Wives, and the yet-to-be released feature film Words on Bathroom Walls. The critically acclaimed independent feature film American Animals and multi award winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri also garnered the state attention during their theatrical releases in 2018 (the projects filmed in a previous calendar year).

Visit North Carolina’s partnership with the North Carolina Sports Association continued to pay dividends with the state’s success in attracting sporting events to small and large communities.

Tourism development outreach in small communities was strengthened through several initiatives, including an ongoing partnership with the NC Department of Commerce and NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources on efforts including Cultural Heritage Tourism Development, Blue Ridge Music Trails and an expanded schedule for Visit North Carolina’s Tourism Resource Assistance Center. We also continued to increase partner participation in the NC Certified Retirement Communities Program.

Please review the balance of this Annual Report for more details on Visit North Carolina’s 2018 program of work and accomplishments. Visit North Carolina continues to collaborate with partners statewide to ensure North Carolina's continued success and growth as a preferred travel, film and sports destination and positive economic force for the entire state.