A Bustling Tourism Economy in Orange County


By Laurie Paolicelli

Fridays on the Front Porch  .

North Carolina Department of Commerce released its 2022 report on tourism in Orange County and it’s filled with good news. And, as is so often the case in this culinary paradise we live in, it’s almost all about the food.

Hillsborough BBQ on Nash Street.

In 2022, food and beverage generated twice as much as lodging revenues.

That’s not a huge surprise when you consider the way we pass our days while traveling. You check into a hotel and pay a per night rate and then you go out on the town, where you can spend quite a bit on breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, street vendors, wine . . . the list goes on.

Talullas, Chapel Hill.

What surprised Chapel Hill/Orange County about the Commerce report was that 2021 research showed that in 2021, visitors to North Carolina spent $28.6 billion. That tops 2019 by 2.4 percent. We’ve had a couple of dark years; it’s good to know we’re seeing a bright light at the end of it all.

A few behind-the scene figures you might find interesting:

Lodging generated $39M. Considering that there’s a labor shortage and that this area was decimated when UNC closed and the pandemic hit, the recovery is impressive.

Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila Bar, Chapel Hill.

Food and Beverage generated $74 M. That’s almost twice as much as lodging and includes fine dining, diners, pubs, sandwich shops, BBQ and so many new restaurants. We are lucky to be home to such awesome restaurants!

Yonder Bar, Hillsborough.

Recreation generated $29.09M, a bit behind lodging.

Retail generated $16.37M. Hats off to Carlisle and Linny in Hillsborough and Sally Mack is Back, book stores, Fleet Feet, Wegman’s and so many delectable bakeries and coffee shops; specialty groceries such as Marikakas, and Carrboro Coffee Roasters, supplying the coffee and pastries that get us off to a good start in the morning.

Sally Mack, Chapel Hill.

Transportation was $36.40M. Airfare, rental cars, and buses play the biggest parts here, and are an important part of the grand total — $194.81M.

The question now is, how do we get locals to enjoy what visitors come here to explore?

Our goal for 2023 is to make that adventure easier and stress-free — for everybody.

Here are some ideas to consider as we plow into the New Year:

Drive downtown, find a parking spot at: www.parkonthehill.com and walk to one of the dozens of highly-rated restaurants only a block or two away, if that.

Mark your calendar for Last Fridays in Hillsborough. There’s a parking deck behind Weaver Street market and you can dine at Radius or Antonia’s or Wooden Nickel. Shop the galleries and eclectic independently-owned shops. You’ll probably see an old friend or two. Say hello.

Last Fridays, Hillsborough.

And speaking of Fridays, don’t miss Fridays on the Front Porch at Carolina Inn all spring, summer long. Pay the valet, walk to the front, and make yourself at home in the soft Carolina air. Eat, drink, dance.

Outdoor drinks on a hot summer night. There’s street parking and an especially convenient lot right behind the Graduate Hotel. We love the Graduate Hotel’s cozy outdoor bar. In Hillsborough? Try the Colonial Inn’s patio. In Carrboro, grab a hot sake at Iza Whiskey and make a stop at one of the may micro-breweries.

We remain grateful to the tourism industry for generating so many jobs. UNC Friday Center’s terrific team.

Morehead Planetarium. Yes, it’s renovated, cool, and visitors love it. You will too!

Free Chapel Hill Waking Tours. Easy, moderate pace, fascinating history, laughter.

Download the free UNC self-guided tour app and explore campus. We guarantee you’ll learn something new.

One thing’s for sure: tourism has grown, which is great. But out-of-towners shouldn’t be the ones having all the fun.

So cheers to a night out on Franklin Street, a thoroughfare named for a very smart man who planted the seed leading to a future he could not have imagined, but one we can find right outside our front door.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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