By Tina Coleman, Southern Delaware Tourism

According to the latest (2021) Rockport Report commissioned by the Delaware Tourism Office, despite the trials and tribulations brought on by COVID in 2020, tourism continues to be a major economic driver throughout Delaware and particularly in Sussex County. 

Recently the Delaware Tourism Office released its report, Value of Tourism 2021, compiled by Rockport Analytics. 

While we all know tourism and related industries were dealt a major blow in 2020 when COVID hit, this 2021 report demonstrates the upward trajectory of the industry since then. 

For instance, in 2019, prior to the pandemic, tourism contributed $3.7 billion to the state GDP, or five percent. (GDP is the total market value of goods and services produced by the state’s economy.) This most recent report indicates that tourism’s contribution to the state GDP had increased in 2021 to $4 billion – more than 5 percent. Additionally, in 2021 tourism contributed $620 million in taxes to the state and local coffers, a significant increase over 2019’s figure of 568.2 million.

Statewide in 2021 Delawareans welcomed 28.3 million visitors. Visitor spending topped $5.9 billion, a large increase over 2019. In fact, in 2021, total visitor spending exceeded 2019, the previous high mark, by 11 percent to set a new Delaware record.

In Sussex County in 2021, 23,550 jobs were tourism related compared to 2019, which clocked in at 19,750. Tourism is the #1 employer in Sussex County. Tourism expenditures in the county totaled over $2.7 billion compared to 2019 when visitors spent $2.3 billion. In 2021, visitors to our county spent $270 million on hotel accommodations, almost $120 million on entertainment, more than $421 million on food and beverage, and $274 million on Delaware’s famous tax-free shopping – all significant increases over 2019 figures. 

Granted, this is an awful lot of numbers, and numbers without relatable context tend to make our eyes glaze over. 

Fortunately, the report further breaks the numbers down to illustrate what all this means to individual Delawareans. The numbers mean jobs. And tax savings. Take a look:

• Tourism is the state’s fourth largest private employer, with nearly 48,000 Delawareans employed in the tourism industry in 2021. Almost 24,000 of those jobs are right here in Sussex County. 

• Tourism in 2021 saved each Delaware household $1,608 in taxes.

Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism says, “This report reinforces tourism as a growth sector in Delaware and in Sussex County’s economy. It continues to power our county’s economy along with agriculture. With this growth comes the need for every community to identify its tourism strategy to maximize benefits and plan for future needs.”