As hard as it might be to imagine, the day could come when Mount Airy must depend on something other than “Mayberry” for the bulk of its tourism dollars.
So local officials should start thinking about other ways to market the city.
That was the tone of a recent presentation to Mount Airy governmental leaders on “branding,” which was part of a two-day planning session in March.
“Branding is the art of setting yourself apart from everyone else,” explained local tourism coordinator Jessica Roberts, who led the presentation.
“This is the hot new term in the news right now,” added Roberts, the director of marketing and tourism for Mount Airy Tourism and the Tourism Partnership of Surry County.
At present, sights and sounds related to the television show starring Mount Airy’s most famous native son, Andy Griffith, continue to be a big drawing card, which has been the case for years.
“We still promote Mayberry,” Roberts said, pointing out that it also is a big part of county tourism efforts as well as wineries.
Branding a particular area is a “city” proposition, Roberts advised.
“You can’t market yourselves as a county,” she said in explaining that few people pick one as a destination.
However, there are 19,500 cities and towns in the U.S. “So we need to figure out how we stand out from them,” the local tourism official explained.
She said Greensboro, for example, traditionally has branded itself as a sports and entertainment venue. That’s due to events such as the ACC Tournament being held there numerous times, as well as concerts and other activities at the Greensboro Coliseum and the proximity of the nearby airport in helping visitors access those.
“But people come here for vacation,” Roberts said of an advantage the Mount Airy area has over Greensboro, perhaps due to this city’s laid-back nature in comparison.
Mount Airy’s location does present challenges, since it is considered part of both the Piedmont Triad and Yadkin Valley regions.
“How confusing is it for the visitor to know where we are?” Roberts said of a basic, yet critical factor Mount Airy should do a better job informing would-be tourists about through its branding efforts.
“One of our biggest challenges right now is wayfaring,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister agreed regarding the need for signage that helps visitors find their way to town and to specific sites.
Roberts said that in identifying attractions to promote along with Mayberry, the city could look to its expanded greenway system as one possibility along with the Ararat River trout fishing area that is on the trail of the same name.
“The greenway has been such a great addition,” Roberts said of a system now boasting nearly seven continuous miles for walking/biking/running.
Regardless of what Mount Airy relies on in branding itself, it must be genuine, she said.
“Your brand has to be positive — you have to do what you say you are going to do,” Roberts stressed concerning not turning out a brand without being able to deliver on the promise.
“In other words, you don’t want to brand yourself as a music center unless you are a music center,” Commissioner Armbrister concurred.
Using technology wisely
Roberts told city officials that Mount Airy already is doing much to brand itself.
“There are a lot of things I think the city should be doing, and it is doing already,” she said.
“But as technology changes, we need to find a way to stay on top of that,” she said of maximizing use of social media including Facebook, Twitter and others. Roberts pointed out that entities such as Mount Airy Parks and Recreation now boast a strong Facebook presence.
Tweets — the short messages sent via Twitter on which President Donald Trump relies — involves a method that “gets information out really quickly,” Roberts said.
She added that Tweets dispatched on behalf of city government to market this area should be labeled as “official” communications of the municipality.
Blogs, another form of website communication that is regularly updated by an individual or small group to send messages written in an informal or conversational manner, also can be used — but selectively and not frivolously.
“When the content is of great value to your readers, not because it’s Tuesday,” Roberts said.
The tourism official said consumers’ have become reliant on Internet-based information to determine where they eat, shop or vacation — which will only increase as time passes.
“People are reviewing towns, people are talking about towns,” Roberts said of websites such as TripAdvisor, which more than 50 million people consult each month to see how certain locations are rated.
“We have to look at how much technology has changed and where we’re going.”
In terms of attracting the so-called “Internet Generation” to town, aka younger folks, Roberts said several obstacles are holding Mount Airy back.
One is its relative lack of nightlife, which is an attraction for millennials and others. “They ask, ‘Why do businesses shut down at night?’” Roberts said of tourists who show up at the city visitors center downtown.
They often complain about many Mount Airy businesses being closed on Sunday.
“They don’t understand that,” Roberts said. “A lot of things are closed on Saturday as well.”
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said the other side of that coin surrounds the fact some local business owners can’t afford to add extra personnel to maintain evening hours or work long schedules themselves. “They need time off,” she said.
Roberts also said there is a need for more upscale restaurants and bed-and-breakfast establishments locally, as well as lodging downtown.
She reminded that much is at stake with tourism, now the fastest-growing industry in the nation as a whole, with lodging, shopping and dining the main expenditures.
“Tourism is economic development — a lot of people don’t understand that or don’t want to say that.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.