Tourism partnerships explained, touted

Published 2:28 am Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Contributing Editor

Area municipalities, arts organizations, museums, lodging establishments and tourist attractions met Monday to talk about how they can join forces to improve tourism in Beaufort County.
The meeting, organized by the Washington Tourism Development Authority and held at the Washington Civic Center, drew about 25 representatives from tourism-interest groups throughout the county.
In her opening remarks, Lynn Lewis, Washington’s tourism-development director, reminded the participants “you have to continue educating the public about what you do.” To that end, Lewis explained what the WTDA has been and is doing to inform the public about what’s happening in the area.
The WTDA has redesigned its website based on information it received as a study conducted by Randall Travel Marketing.
“We have continued to use the recommendations made in that study,” Lewis said. “Travelers are looking online before they come to Washington.”
The WTDA has a Facebook presence and sends out monthly e-newsletters to inform people about events and destinations they may want to visit, she noted. Advertisements are being run in publications such as Southern Living, Our State and the 2011 North Carolina Travel Guide, Lewis said.
Many of those advertisements incorporate the use of “little Washington,” Lewis noted.
“I know that gives some people heartburn,” said Lewis, referring to some Washington residents’ dislike of the term “little” to identify Washington. Because so many people outside Washington refer to the city has “little Washington,” it makes sense to use that phrase as a marketing tool, she said.
WTDA does not use Washington or Beaufort County residents’ tax dollars to fund its operations, Lewis said. WTDA’s funding comes from revenue generated by Washington’s 6-percent occupancy tax, she said.
“All of our marketing efforts are outside a 50-mile radius,” said Lewis, noting that billboards are an exception.
Currently, five billboards close to Washington promote the city as a tourist destination, she said.
With the opening of the U.S. Highway 17 Bypass earlier this year, the number of vehicles traveling through the city’s business corridor — U.S. Highway 17 Business — has declined, Lewis said. As part of an effort to combat that loss of traffic, the billboards were erected to help direct travelers — and the money they spend — into the heart of the city, Lewis said.
The WTDA’s partners for paying for the billboards include the North Carolina Estuarium, Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn.
The WTDA maintains a presence on radio and television, too, Lewis said. Pirate Radio, 1250 and 930 AM, carries many advertisements about events and tourist locations in the Washington area, with UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Weekend” show often running programming about festivals, events and historic sites in Beaufort County, she noted.
The WTDA continues to conduct economic-impact studies on events such as triathlons and Ironman competitions held in the area, Lewis said. The WTDA also provides grants to help organizations, festivals and historic sites promote events, programs and projects, Lewis said.
Representatives of historic sites, nonprofit groups and local governments discussed the need for one another to work closer together when it comes to attracting visitors to the area. Some representatives talked about forming “packages” that would have travelers visiting several area historic sites, events, cultural locations and museums during a two- or three-day visit.
Blount Rumley, manager of the Estuarium, said some tourism-related figures may surprise people.
“We have more people visiting us from Pitt County than Beaufort County,” he said about a recent six-month period at the Estuarium.
The Estuarium also sees a lot of people from the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, he said.
“I think the marketing up in that area is working, at least I think it is,” Rumley said.
Pat Mansfield, representing the Blackbeard Adventure Alliance, said Beaufort County should promote “eco-heritage tourism” because of its history as home to river ports such as Washington, Bath and Belhaven. She said the area should take advantage of its Blackbeard connections, adding that Blackbeard once called Bath home.
The Blackbeard Adventure Alliance is working toward building a replica of the Adventure, a Jamaica sloop that Blackbeard once sailed. The sloop would be built in Beaufort County and likely kept in Washington’s harbor.
The sloop would be used as an educational tool, one that would visit the state’s 20 coastal counties, said Bill Zachman, a BAA member.
“It’s time, when this economy turns around, for Beaufort County and eastern North Carolina to benefit from its maritime heritage,” Zachman said.