Are clouds ahead for record-setting tourism industry?
Delaware tourism continues to grow, setting records as more visitors come to Delaware and spend more money year after year.
In 2018, officials say, tourism contributed a record $3.5 billion to Delaware’s gross domestic product, continuing the growth from recent years: $3.3 billion in 2016; $3.4 billion in 2017. The state’s 2018 tourism report shows 9.2 million people visited the state, generating just over 44,000 jobs, making tourism the state’s fourth-largest private employer.
According to the report, tourism generates nearly 19,000 jobs in Sussex alone, accounting for more than 16 percent of jobs countywide.
But while we are celebrating the growth of the tourism industry, there are clouds on the horizon.
With nine new hotels permitted or under construction in coastal Sussex and three more proposed in Rehoboth Beach, we may soon reach a point when the roads to the beaches are too congested and our beaches are just too crowded.
Surveys show people say they come to Delaware for tax-free shopping and food, with beaches ranking third on the list of visitor activities. With the Cape Region’s off-season calendar filled with festivals and events, perhaps state tourism officials should now turn their attention to activities at the end of the visitor activities list: parks, history and touring.
Lewes is a great town for history buffs, but there is also plenty of history to see in western Sussex, starting with the Seaford Museum, which tells the town’s rich story, and the still-operational Woodland Ferry. Park enthusiasts may wish to explore the trails around Trap Pond, one of Delaware’s oldest state parks.
For kayakers and birders, the Nanticoke River, at the heart of the 40-mile Nanticoke Heritage Byway, offers one of the most beautiful places on the East Coast to explore.
Delaware’s beaches will likely remain the crown jewel of tourism. But if the industry is to continue to grow, it may be time to entice visitors to leave the crowds behind, luring them to head west to explore the quieter side of Sussex.