Developing Sustainable Tourism on the Outer Banks

In recent years, the Outer Banks has seen more people than ever before. With our unique natural and cultural landscapes, who could resist an OBX getaway! However, as we welcome more and more visitors with open arms, we are beginning to feel increased pressure on our resources. Not only have our beaches seen more traffic but so has every extent of the service industry.

Fish Heads Bar & Grill

“Help Wanted!”

With this growing popularity, the Outer Banks is experiencing a substantial demand, in particular, for social resources. We are seeing an abundance of “Now Hiring” signs regularly occupying our storefronts. Businesses are unexpectedly reducing their hours of operation due to a lack of labor, exhausted staff, and/or supply chain shortages. And, in a few incredibly unfortunate instances, we have had to say goodbye to some local favorites as a result.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Whitney Knollenberg


Photo courtesy of Dr. Whitney Knollenberg

While the Outer Banks is at the forefront of an explosive economy in terms of its potential, we must now reconcile that our community’s infrastructure is under enormous strain. If we want to continue welcoming vacationers to OBX and ensuring they return for years to come, then we must find sustainable solutions for managing the impacts of our growth.

A Need For Change

Observing this, Twiddy & Company approached the NC State College of Natural Resources to ask for help. Together, they launched the Lighthouse Fund for Sustainable Tourism. This summer, in an endeavor to examine the effects of tourism on the social, cultural, environmental, and economic well-being of communities, we had the opportunity to engage with Dr. Whitney Knollenberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at NC State, who graciously conducted research and outreach activities here on the Outer Banks.  

Dr. Whitney Knollenberg, an assistant professor of parks, recreation, and tourism management at NC State’s College of Natural Resources.

Developing Sustainable Solutions

For two months, Knollenberg worked on location, exploring strategies and innovations to improve destinations’ competitiveness while conserving their natural and cultural resources and upholding the socio-cultural integrity of their communities and the residents who live within them. In a presentation she gave in July at Jennette’s Pier, Knollenberg stressed the importance of changing the way we think. The focus must be on balancing these facets: growth of visitation, environmental responsibility, and quality of life. By ensuring that residents and those who deal with those negative impacts of tourism every day participate in the development and benefits of tourism, we can establish the Outer Banks as not just a great place to visit but also a great place to live.

Clark Twiddy and Dr. Whitney Knollenberg at an event hosted by the NC State Alumni Association.

While the work has just begun, we are grateful for the growing partnership we have with NC State and Dr. Knollenberg. With their help, we can begin to shift the paradigm and pave the way for a flourishing future of sustainable OBX tourism.

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