By Tina Coleman, Southern Delaware Tourism

With peak tourist season just around the corner, now is a great time to remind ourselves of the importance of tourism and its benefits to Sussex County, local employers, our workforce, county residents and the future of this amazingly beautiful place we are so lucky to call home. 

The Economy

In 2022, the latest year reported, tourism’s contribution to the state gross domestic product was $4.5 billion. Tourism is a major economic driver throughout Delaware, particularly in Sussex County. Statewide in 2022, Delawareans welcomed 28.6 million visitors and visitor spending topped $6.5 billion, a significant increase over 2021, a year in which total visitor spending set a new Delaware record. Historically, Sussex County visitor spending provides more than half the state total. For example, in 2021, 7.6 million visitors to Sussex 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’s pre-pandemic figures.

To sustain/grow these benefits to our economy, Southern Delaware Tourism continually reaches out to those living in our drive-from markets to make sure Southern Delaware remains top of mind as a destination when they plan their travel. These drive-from markets include people who live within a four-hour drive of Southern Delaware, equaling nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population.

Our Jobs

Tourism is the #1 employer in Sussex County. Statewide, tourism is the fourth largest private employer, with over 52,000 Delawareans employed in the tourism industry in 2022.

Our taxes

Tourism in 2022 saved each Delaware household nearly $1,800 in taxes.

Our lifestyle

It’s not all about money. Tourism creates and sustains a sense of community pride that encourages our local communities to maintain their traditions and identity and to preserve their history. Tourism promotes the desire and provides an incentive to conserve the local environment and natural resources. That, in turn, encourages tourists to visit the area because of the great outdoor opportunities and popular visitor experiences available here. Just imagine what Sussex County would be like now if no one had thought to preserve and protect the areas that became Delaware Seashore State Park or the National Wildlife Refuge at Prime Hook?

Tourism requires that community investment be made to maintain and enhance the area to make it as attractive and appealing to visitors as possible. That’s exactly what has occurred in Lewes over the last half-century. This year marks the 60th anniversary of both Cape Henlopen State Park and the Cape May Lewes Ferry. What would Lewes be like today without the ferry or the park? Unimaginable, isn’t it? Thanks to tourism, those of us who are lucky enough live here get to have our cake and eat it too. We enjoy the economic benefits of living in a popular tourism destination and we get to take full advantage of all the fantastic enhancements and activities that make Sussex County so popular with ever-growing numbers of visitors. Tourism has an incredibly positive impact on the success of our Sussex County community as well as on each of us individually, our businesses and our tourism workforce. As we head into summer, let’s celebrate that.