DOBSON — Burke Robertson of Mount Airy was chosen Monday as the new leader of a countywide tourism-development group and said he hopes to take its efforts “to the next level.”
The Tourism Partnership of Surry County is a relatively new organization that was formed to market the area in various ways, funded by an occupancy tax collected from lodging establishments. With tourism steadily becoming a key part of the local economy, it operated with a $228,000 budget for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.
“I don’t think that this thing needs to change much,” Robertson, a longtime Mount Airy businessman who also presently heads the governing board of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, said after being picked Monday as TPSC chairman. That decision by his fellow members came during a noontime meeting in the county government center.
“I do think that now that we’re established, we need to go to the next level,” Robertson added while praising the work of Leslie Schlender, who has chaired the partnership for two years, and Valerie Oberle, who earlier held the post.
“This, group, I don’t think, would be where were are today if it weren’t for Leslie and if it weren’t for Valerie,” he said.
Robertson’s election as chairman was triggered by Schlender’s decision to step down, as she explained that there is a need to “change it up” regarding the board’s leadership. Schlender, who is from the Elkin area, also cited a leadership role she has with another tourism-related organization, the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor.
“I just think it would be a better mix of things if there were two different leaders there,” said the outgoing chairwoman, who will continue to represent Elkin on the Tourism Partnership of Surry County. Schlender joked that she wanted “to avoid insider trading accusations” in vacating its chairmanship.
Aside from that, Schlender simply believes it would be good to have new leadership, especially a “visionary” who can inject energy into the group containing representatives from smaller tourism authorities around the county.
“I think it would just be good to change it up,” she said of enhancing the “vibrancy” of the TPSC.
Group members agreed that it was appropriate to have someone from Mount Airy (Robertson) heading the group, which has been led by representatives from other municipalities in the past.
One of the constant challenges of the Surry partnership has been to promote each part of a geographically diverse county fairly.
“We’re in a nice stable position,” Schlender said of her decision to step down at a time when the partnership is on firm organizational and financial footing. It is said to one of only four county tourism authorities in North Carolina which hasn’t seen a drop in occupancy tax revenues due to the economy’s effects on travel and tourism.
Robertson, noting that Schlender and Oberle had built up the countywide tourism group “from nothing,” indicated that it’s now a matter of tweaking what they have already started in marketing and other efforts. “Most people will tell you it’s been very well-done,” he said of the operation so far.
The organization has a $159,000 budget for advertising and marketing in its spending plan for the present fiscal year — the largest single line-item listed — compared to $151,000 for the previous year. There is another $5,000 to $6,000 that is unallocated, which Schlender said “gives us some room to move.”
Most of the expenditures will be advertisements promoting Surry County tourism in regional publications such as magazines and on various online websites geared toward tourism. Reaching the retiree segment is a key objective, according to Monday’s discussion.
Among marketing plan highlights mentioned at the meeting were:
• Mounting an advertising campaign directed toward Ohio residents, given a heavy influx of southbound travelers from that state. “Half of Ohio seems to travel down I-77 on their way to Hilton Head,” Schlender said of Ohio residents using a local interstate highway and the need to break into that market. Board members said other campaigns could be developed for Raleigh, although there is competition from beach communities for its tourism business, and Roanoke, Va.
• Paying $475 per month to a regional professional to maintain social media networks for local tourism, such as a Facebook page and blog postings. “To me, this is an absolute no-brainer,” said the TPSC’s Greg Perkins, also a Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority member who lauded the value of social media in the business world. “That’ll pay off many-fold for us.” However, at Robertson’s urging, members agreed to include an opt-out provision that will allow either party to end the agreement after giving proper notice. “If you’re not happy, you need to be able to cancel it,” he said.
• Continuing a fall advertising campaign geared for Charlotte, which members hope can be extended to the spring as well.
• The reprinting of a visitors guide for the county.
• The continued funding of a downloadable brochure from a VisitNC website.
• Sponsoring visits to local attractions by travel writers for various publications.
“It sounds like you’ve got a good mix,” Laurette Leagon, a TPSC member who represents the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce in Elkin, said of the marketing plans.
Perkins and others also favor the tourism groups in the county’s municipalities “piggybacking” their advertising efforts with the TPSC as much as possible to maximize financial resources.
But Schlender said care must be exercised to ensure the partnership resources don’t have the appearance of favoring a particular community such as Mount Airy.
“You’re getting into a delicate little area there.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.