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Matt Born / Starnews

Int'l - Tourist season: Oak Island businesses already seeing visitor boom

As the summer tourism season approaches, Oak Island businesses are eager for an influx of visitors that were kept away by COVID-19 restrictions last year.

As the summer tourism season approaches, Oak Island businesses are eager for an influx of visitors that were kept away by COVID-19 restrictions last year.

Many are already seeing a major difference compared to last year.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Toni Henri, with the Beach House Motel & Suites. “Definitely more people are ready to get out and travel. I mean, it's hard to keep away from the beach.”

When Oak Island beaches were shut down by COVID-19 last year, it could have been devastating for the local tourist economy.

Oak Island Restaurant owner Mary Sigmon said she was only carried through that summer by local clientele cultivated over 22 years, who made an extra effort to support the mom and pop shop.

“We've seen a lot of them come three or four times a week,” Simon said. “We've had some really great local people that supported us. Even though we're short handed, they understand and they're just great people.”

According to business owners, there was a noticeable hesitancy from visitors last year that seems to have mostly faded away.

Last summer people would ask about their COVID-19 protocols, cleaning regiment, and how they’re keeping people safe. Now the questions are "Which restaurants are still open?" and "What’s going on around town?"

“Last year, we probably had half of the business that we normally would,” said Melanie Cimoni with the Ocean Crest Motel. “Every week we were hoping that people would call and want to come in to stay. We had a lot of cancellations because people would change their mind last minute and decide that it wasn't safe to travel this year.”

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