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Delaware tourism booms back with record 28M visitors

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Lewes beach wind turbine tourism Delaware

Delaware saw a booming return of tourism in 2021 as many came to the First State as the grip of the COVID pandemic began to ease. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER – Delaware tourism has fully recovered from the COVID pandemic – a record 28.3 million visitors came to Delaware in 2021 contributing $4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, according to figures released Wednesday.

Delaware State Tourism Director Jessica Welch

Delaware State Tourism Director Jessica Welch discusses the findings of the 2021 tourism survey at a May 10 announcement. | DBT PHOTO COURTESY OF ROGER MORRIS

“Not only has tourism returned, but the 2021 figures have broken the previous annual records,” said Jessica Welch, state director of tourism, during a press conference announcing the results at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover. “And we expect 2022 figures, which will be released later this year, to be even better.”

Other highlights from the 2021 survey include:

  • Tourism employment rose to a record 47,760 full- and part-time jobs and accounted for 64% of all new jobs created in the state during 2021.
  • Visitors spent $5.9 billion while in the state, up 30% from the pandemic year of 2020, and per-person daily expenditures were 165% higher than the national average.
  • The top five states of origin for visitors were New York, Florida, California, Pennsylvania and Texas, and 83% of people who came were repeat visitors.

According to Kenneth McGill, managing director at Rockport Analytics, which prepared the annual report, Delaware tourism was very resilient even during the pandemic and was well-prepared to bounce back.

“While the pandemic decimated tourism worldwide, Delaware fared well compared to loss nationwide, because many of the activities were outside and a lot of visitors had to do with amateur athletics at the DE Turf complex and elsewhere,” he said, adding that the 2021 tourism figure were especially impressive because “at least a third of the year we were still in pandemic status.”

McGill also pointed to other positive factors contributing to the quick tourism rebound.

“In addition to outdoor activities, the major sources of tourism for Delaware are the many visitors who can drive from nearby states. Add to that, the state is not as dependent on international travel, which still hasn’t fully recovered, as other states nor as dependent on business travel,” he said.

Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, whose department oversees the tourism office, said the report “demonstrates that tourism-related jobs can bounce back quickly and strongly after being hit so hard” and that “the speedy recovery tells us a lot about the enduring appeal of Delaware as a vacation state.”

According to McGill, Sussex County was the quickest to snap back, in part due to its beach and hospitality economy, “although we’ve also seen significant growth of tourism in Kent County, even if from a smaller base. New Castle County suffered a bit from declining business travel and business tourism with fewer people working in offices.”

The tourism report also calculated how much the tourism dollar meant to Delaware residents beyond the jobs created, figuring that each resident would need to pay an additional $1,608 in taxes to make up for the theoretical budget deficit.

Not all the tourism dollars came from out-of-state, however, as intra-state tourism is also a factor even within Delaware’s small geographic size.

“The way tourism figures are determined, a person has to travel at least 50 miles one way and have at least one overnight stay,” he said, which will would include most northern New Castle residents’ annual summer vacations at the state’s beaches.

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