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Selling N.C.: Tourism leaders tap into state's assets

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Jill Teter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discusses her company with Adam Zappia and Dusty Allison on March 20, 2017.

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Michael Abramowitz

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tourism in North Carolina means much more now than planning a sight-seeing trip. The more than 500 tourism industry professionals who gathered at the Greenville Convention Center this week for the Visit NC 365 conference know that more is at stake than a nice vacation.

The annual three-day conference is the state’s premier travel industry event, bringing together industry leaders to catch up on the latest trends and issues, hear insights from industry experts, and network with other travel and tourism professionals.

“This essentially is the one meeting each year of the North Carolina tourism industry,” Wit Tuttell, Visit NC executive director, said. “The Greenville Convention Center is the perfect size for us with plenty of hotel space nearby. We feel the enthusiasm and the way this city has taken this conference to heart.”

It was Greenville’s first bid for the major conference, and it was ready to host it, said Andrew Schmidt, executive director of the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“This a great opportunity for us to showcase Greenville as a destination to our tourism partners and the many representatives from the media, including Southern Living, National Geographic and USA Today,” Schmidt said. “The impact of having this conference here and the opportunity to showcase Greenville and understand what’s going on here is very important to me.”

Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas was pleased at the way the various entities of the city and county worked together to make the conference a success and show off the city and Pitt County.

“We work together like a finely tuned machine, and that pays off with events like this and the upcoming League of Municipalities conference later this year,” Thomas said. “Our upgraded event targeting is the result of the hard work done the last two years, and it’s good to see the payoff.”

Visit NC is a private nonprofit whose sole contract is to work for the N.C. Department of Commerce as its marketing team for business development and tourism. Tuttell handles the tourism side, and Chris Chung handles the business side as CEO of the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership. The agency has two main goals for the conference, Tuttell said.

“Our first goal is to get industry professionals to work together,” he said. “We have a cooperative marketing program that turns the state’s $4-million marketing spend into a $10-million spend by getting partners to join us and buy into a cooperative marketing campaign that goes further. We also want to provide as much professional education as we can that reflects what’s going on in the economy and politics.” 

Visit NC already has exceeded last year’s cooperative buy-in by $50,000, Tuttell said. 

“Being private helps us be more flexible to pool money together, create partnerships and respond more quickly when things change,” he said. “That’s a benefit we didn’t have when we were in the state (government).”

Chung and the N.C. Economic Development Partnership oversee business recruitment, industry support, small business start-up counseling, and international trade and export assistance.

“This is a very important conference, giving us an opportunity to highlight, from a statewide level, any successes and accomplishments we’ve had and take a look around the corner at the next 12 months,” Chung said. “About two-and-a-half years ago, many of the functions of the commerce department, including business recruitment and tourism, were spun out from the public sector and established in the form of this new public-private partnership format. The missions are comparable: Drive North Carolina growth through the attraction of companies and existing industry growth, and promote tourism so more visitors will come and spend here.”

What’s different is the new public-private approach, allowing the state to leverage financial resources from the private sector. As many as 16 other states have taken the same marketing approach.

“We’re very lucky to have a very strong product, but you also must have the resources to sell the product, and the private sector resources allow us to reach our audience with the North Carolina message,” Chung said.

The conference agenda has included several keynote addresses, educational sessions, an issues forum, a preview of Visit North Carolina’s 2017-18 strategic marketing plan, and cooperative opportunities with peers and media partners. A pre-conference symposium presented by East Carolina University and Visit North Carolina brought academics and practitioners together to further develop tourism research agendas and encourage opportunities for collaboration.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

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