Southeast
D'lyn Ford, North Carolina State University

When coastal hazards threaten your Outer Banks trip

A trip to the Outer Banks is a tradition for some North Carolina families and a bucket-list destination for other tourists. A new study from North Carolina State University asked visitors for their reactions to having travel plans disrupted by coastal hazards like washed-out roads or limited beach access. Would they reschedule? Go somewhere else? Stop visiting the Outer Banks?

Their answers provide insight for tourism planning and investments in coastal communities, says lead author Erin Seekamp, an NC State associate professor and tourism extension specialist in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management.

"The majority of those we surveyed said they wouldn't change their trip-taking behavior, but about a third or so said that they were uncertain what they would do," Seekamp says. "It's that third that could really plague the future economy of Outer Banks tourism destinations."

More than 340 Outer Banks visitors responded to scenarios involving four factors that could affect their trip plans: transportation disruptions, increased lodging taxes to pay for beach nourishment (adding sand to beaches), narrow beach width, and limited access because of beach nourishment projects at their destinations.

"We found that transportation disruption was most important in terms of future trip-taking behavior," Seekamp says. "The idea of this study was to try to figure out, among many different factors that influence coastal tourists to the Outer Banks, which would be the most important that would inhibit them from returning."

Possible transportation disruptions involved having to reach the Outer Banks by ferry because the Highway 64 bridge was closed; absence of the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry until the inlet was dredged; or closure of Highway 12, a scenic byway along the Outer Banks, at Oregon Inlet.

"It was the ability to drive Highway 12 north-south that seems to be driving people's decision-making and their expectation of what an Outer Banks vacation is like," Seekamp says. "They want to visit many sites and being able to drive along that thin ribbon of sand between Nags Head and Hatteras is important to them."

While transportation issues could impede access for travelers, other scenarios focused on costs, aesthetics and crowding, which are also related to travel behavior, Seekamp says.

Increased costs—in this case in the form of lodging taxes to support beach nourishment projects—was not as important as transportation disruptions, even when the hypothetical scenario was as high as a 7.5% increase.

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