The Surry County Tourism Summit was a celebration of success, with Wit Tuttell, executive director for the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development, praising the Surry County Tourism Partnership, local Tourism Development Authorities, and the visitor centers and Tourism and Marketing Director Jessica Roberts’ efforts in promoting Surry County.
“My personal opinion is the future of Surry County is the best it has been in 50 years, and we want you to realize that, too,” Burke Robertson, president of the Surry County Tourism Partnership, announced to those in attendance at the summit.
The Tourism Summit took place on April 24 at the Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Viticulture and Enology Center at Surry Community College. It was set up by the tourism partnership to showcase the increase in tourism and visitation to the area, and the efforts on behalf of the partnership to bring visitors to the area — efforts that have proven to be successful with visitors who spent a record $107.06 million in 2012. Early indications of last year’s numbers show further increase, as well as 770 Surry County citizens who are directly employed in the travel and tourism industry with a payroll of $14.92 million.
Spokesperson Craig Distl, who handles public relations for the partnership, said much of their success comes from various campaigns and marketing efforts that are “changing the character and perception of Surry County.”
“If you look back at Surry County 10 to 15 years ago, and look at it today, it is a completely different community with completely different potential.”
An outreach effort Distl described is the annual media tour, when the partnership hosts a large group of writers and media representatives from all around the country who spend time touring the area and getting ideas for future articles. Media tours have resulted in numerous stories, articles and features in magazines, newspapers and websites all over the world — articles about different aspects of Surry County such as Mayberry attractions, wineries, the scenery, small towns, and more.
Distl presented a slide show with publicity highlights from the past year, such as a feature about sonkers in the “New York Times,” an upcoming feature in “Wine Buzz Magazine” from Ohio about vineyards and wineries, and a feature about Mayberry from “Carolina Country” magazine. He also announced plans are in the works for a sonker trail, featuring “multiple places to eat the one-of-a-kind treat.”
“Food tourism is very big right now, and we want to take advantage of that,” Distl shared.
Another campaign the partnership is rolling out is a packaging program featuring “winetineraries,” itineraries with themes such as “Girlfriend Getaways” and other themes.
The Yadkin Valley Golf and Wine Experience packaging program is being rebranded as “Fairways and Chardonnays” with a few additions for 2014 such as a group leader program, giving incentives such as free vacations to those who plan trips with groups of eight or more golfers. The wine and golf itineraries are being marketed to people in metro areas who enjoy traveling to the Yadkin Valley region, but anyone can take advantage of them through visiting www.verysurry.com.
Tuttle shared how marketing dollars from the state are combined with investments from the partnership to expand marketing initiatives. He told everyone that tourism in North Carolina is a huge business, but would not be successful without the tourism partnerships, which exist in every county in the state, with 130 total. “And you have one of the best teams in the state,” Tuttle announced. “They do a fantastic job, and I love working with them.”
The goal of the state tourism office, with is part of the N.C. Department of Commerce, is to “get more people to stay longer and spend more money…bringing in economic development and money to the state” which is essential, because North Carolina has less of a tourism budget than other states, including surrounding states, Tuttle explained.
“We have to be much more targeted in what we do. We leverage resources through our partnerships with all 100 counties in the state and we measure everything we do [through studies, web analytics, social media engagements, etc.].
The plan is working, because 2012 (the last numbers that have come in) was a record year for tourism spending in the state, up 20 percent from 2009, and nearly 200,000 jobs in the state are directly related to tourism. In fact, the travel industry is the only industry in the state that has not only regained all jobs lost since the recession, it is now a job generator, Tuttle announced, with 104 percent more jobs than before the recession. “Tourism is the only major industry that can shout that…this is positive news as we continue to promote tourism throughout the state.”
Surry County is part of the Piedmont Triad Region, which has enjoyed an increase of 7.2 percent in occupancy rates, which is nearly double of the state’s average and also much higher than the rest of the South Atlantic Region, according to information Tuttle presented from the tourism office.
About 82 percent of the tourism partnerships spend half or more of their budgets promoting only within the state, which is where the state tourism office comes in, Tuttle explained. “We don’t want to compete with local tourism offices; that just runs costs up and hurts us all. We offer cooperative opportunities in out-of-state publications to make our dollars go further.” The example Tuttle gave is how the state tourism office may purchase a two-page spread in a large publication, then offer spots in that two-page spread to local tourism offices. The Surry County Tourism Partnership and the local Tourism Development Authority boards have participated in this type of advertising.
In addition, the Surry County Tourism Partnership recently approved a new Ohio travel campaign, after studies show that many visitors to this area are from Ohio, many who stop overnight or for multiple nights in the area on the way to other places farther south.
A new tourism campaign the state office is undertaking is Project543.com — 543 unique and distinct activities and opportunities one can only do or see in North Carolina, named “543” for the 543 miles from Manteo in the east to Murphy in the west.
“We want to be unique against our competitive set. One of the things we focused on is real-life stories, such as stories about traveling to Mayberry, eating sonker, great stories that are unique and distinct to us…we don’t have to have a strong advertising budget — the key is engagement, conversation, and getting involved and getting people into the conversation, telling stories. We should all be storytellers. If you have a story that relates, that is what we want…people want to go on vacation and have a story when they come back,” Tuttle explained.
“Beauty amplified” is a slogan the tourism office has adopted, which is a media strategy that invokes a deeper connection. Tuttle explained that many places have great mountains, but only North Carolina has the “Shadow of a Bear mountain;” other places have great beaches, but only North Carolina has beaches with wild horses that have been there over 400 years, horses that came over on Spanish ships; other places have little towns, but North Carolina can share stories about the unique, distinct artists in the small towns.
Other programs within the state’s tourism office include group travel marketing, sports event recruitment, the certified retirement program which Mount Airy recently joined, the film office, community outreach, a call center, and more. For more information about the state tourism office, visit www.nccommerce.com/tourism and www.visitnc.com.
Those who attended the Surry County Tourism Summit enjoyed wine tastings from JOLO Winery and Vineyards, Shelton Vineyards, Elkin Creek Vineyards, and Surry Cellars (the wine produced by students in the Surry Community College Viticulture Program) and food catered by Mary Planer.
Local officials in attendance included Surry County Commissioners Larry Phillips and Eddie Harris, Mount Airy City Commissioner Shirley Brinkley; U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s Field Representative Mike Finley; Dobson Town Commissioner Bob Comer; and many board members of the local Tourism Development Authority groups.
Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.