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Locals remain a tourism bright spot, survey finds

Katie Tabeling

A new survey found that the biggest tourism opportunities for Delaware may come from its own residents rediscovering what the state has to offer. | DBT FILE PHOTO

DOVER — While many are still reluctant to vacation amid the pandemic, a recent survey found that Delaware’s biggest tourism asset may be its own residents.

The marketing data, which included national travel trends from Longwoods International and surveys from Delaware visitors and residents in October, was announced during a Delaware Tourism Office presentation on Oct. 28 — before a recent surge of cases likely further impacted potential travel decisions.

Liz Keller, director of the Delaware Tourism Office, told stakeholders that local travel remains key to the state’s marketing, specifically those looking for things to do while staying close to home. With coronavirus cases rising across the country, tourism consultancy firm Longwoods International reports that roughly half of all Americans said that fear of COVID-19 is preventing them from traveling. 

Top factors include lack of clarity in health and safety protocols, as well as travel restrictions in desired destinations. But visiting friends and family remain a top driver, so Keller notes that when the time is right, Delaware merchants and destinations can help push the idea of exploring safely.

“People still want to explore their backyards, and we all miss being with our friends and family,” Keller said. “Engaging with locals, and making them our ambassadors as people [feel safe to come visit], make sure the residents know what they can do while they’re here.”

In-state survey results show that locals generally believe that they know everything to do in Delaware, but have yet to do it. Meanwhile, 80% of surveyed out-of-state visitors — primarily from Pennsylvania and New York — said they were not aware of everything to do in Delaware.

“That’s an awesome challenge and a blank canvas to share with them about Delaware,” Keller said in reference to out-of-state visitors.

Top activities to do in the fall and the winter include history and heritage attractions, the beaches, outdoor recreation, craft beer and indoor dining, according to respondents.

About 78% of out-of-state respondents said they felt safe visiting Delaware, but half were split on whether they would actually visit in the fall or winter months. Survey results showed that if they do travel, it would largely be in search of a retirement home or for leisure.

“If quality of life is part of any marketing message, now would be the time to get the message out that while the metro areas are packed, come here and experience our quiet countryside,” Keller said.

Meanwhile, surveyed Delaware residents said they hoped to dine at a restaurant at least once a week and shop in local retail stores once a month, showing how comfortable they are in their communities. Those patterns have held throughout the pandemic, and Keller said that retailers are still at a vital point when the holiday season arrives.

Destination Analytics reports that 80% of Americans plan to shop during the holiday season, but there is also a demand to do so while social distancing and meeting other pandemic-related safety measures.

“Facebook Live sales are doing really well, especially with local boutiques, and private shopping hours and curb-side pick-up,” Keller said, noting the “demand is there to shop local.”

The silver lining for the tourism industry will come in the new year, when people feel more confident to explore Delaware. About 65% of out-of-state residents said they were planning a trip for 2021, with about half of those respondents still in the planning stages of such a trip.

By Katie Tabeling


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