Guest Commentary: As summer approaches, celebrate Delaware’s tourism industry


Jessica Welch is the director of the Delaware Tourism Office and a lifelong Delawarean.

The next time you’re out and about in our state, take a look around and appreciate all that we have in Delaware. We enjoy world-class parks and seaside resort towns. We can choose from fun festivals, funky breweries and restaurants to suit every taste. We live in a state with beaches and ballparks, extravagant mansions and symphony orchestras, all within an hour-and-a-half drive.

America recently marked National Travel and Tourism Week, and it’s the right time for the Delaware Tourism Office and fellow tourism groups to celebrate the joy that visitors bring to our state. It’s also time to be excited about the future because Delaware’s tourism industry has emerged from the pandemic era with fresh vibrance, energized by restless travelers who are eager to explore.

When visitors do come, please give them a warm welcome. Their presence ultimately benefits every household in the state.

Without tourism revenue, each Delaware household would have to pay an extra $1,600 in taxes each year to offset its loss. Without fun-seeking visitors, we’d find it far harder to sustain the dreams of visionary business owners — the entrepreneurs who built such unique destinations as Tre Sorelle Dolce Hand-Dipped Ice Cream & Italian Ice/3 Sweet Sisters Mini Golf in Wyoming, Quest Adventures in Lewes, the Canalside Inn in Rehoboth Beach and Stumpy’s Hatchet House axe throwing in Middletown, just to name a few.

When tourism thrives, we all benefit. And, when challenges confront Delaware’s tourism industry, it proves to be remarkably resilient. In 2021, the most current year for which data is available, tourism in Delaware bounced back with vigor. Overnight visitation jumped 27% from 2020 and even exceeded 2019 levels. Visitor expenditures in Delaware also hit a new record in 2021, with $4 billion contributed to the state gross domestic product. And tourism-related jobs rebounded to new highs in 2021, returning the industry to its position as the state’s fourth-largest private sector employer. In 2021, 64% of all new jobs in Delaware came from tourism.

In some ways, Delaware’s rebound is part of a broader resurgence nationwide, one that’s ongoing and accelerating. Despite inflation, higher interest rates and other economic factors, 93% of American travelers already have trips planned for the next six months — the highest level in three years — according to a March study by the tourism research firm Longwoods International.

When asked to prioritize their spending in the coming months, Americans said travel was No. 1 — beating out home improvements, clothing, entertainment and even dining out.

Yet, in other ways, Delaware’s rebound — and its potential — are driven by Delaware’s own unique strengths. Budget-minded travelers realize Delaware is just one of five states with no sales tax. The president’s high-profile presence has raised awareness of our state and its appeal globally. And Delaware’s incredible tourism businesses continue to set a high standard: Wilmington earned a place on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2023 list of the best places to go in the United States, and the Mount Cuba Center was recently named among the “Best Botanical Gardens Across the United States” by Fodor’s Travel.

But those stellar rankings don’t come without incredible effort and steady nurturing of the assets Delaware holds. That’s why we all must continue to work toward a friendly business climate and continue to preserve and protect our natural treasures, whether it’s the dunes of Cape Henlopen State Park or the water that flows in our creeks and streams. We must work for a Delaware that nurtures its appeal, not only for those we welcome but for those who call this state home.

So, when hundreds of tourists start coming into town, remember: We can be our own best ambassadors. We should keep in mind what a privilege it is to be able to share our state’s beauty with others. And we need to remember that tourism’s benefits come only when everyone — from our elected leaders and government officials to nonprofit groups and everyday citizens — work together to move our industry and state forward.

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