Stephenson named Washington’s newest Tourism Development Director

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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Paula Stephenson was named Washington’s newest tourism development director of the Washington Tourism Development Authority (WTDA) earlier this year. Being that Stephenson is the director and a Washington native, she’s got a lot of knowledge about and a lot of love for the city she has called home. 

Stephenson has been with the Authority for more than 14 years. She started as an attendant at the Visitor’s Center and moved up the ranks to Marketing Coordinator, the Outreach and finally Director of authority which promotes Washington as a tourist destination. 

They work with several organizations including, the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Washington, Visit NC and Our State Magazine to market Washington to readers in addition to publishing blog posts on about local businesses. 

It is her hope that visitors experience the river, the history and friendly residents during their stay. Those are the selling points for Washington, she explained. 

According to Stephenson, travelers are looking for destinations like Washington which are less populated and offer outdoor and recreational activities like kayaking and bike trails. “That has been important the last couple of years, and that will continue to be important,” she said. 

“Obviously, everybody loves the water and Washington has to have one of the most beautiful river fronts in North Carolina. It’s open, it’s airy, it’s absolutely gorgeous,” Stephenson said. 

History is another draw that brings tourists to the city. Stephenson said people enjoy listening to Leesa Jones teach about the Underground Railroad at the Washington Waterfront Underground Museum and they enjoy learning about the natural history of the area at the Estuarium. 

“All of these things crossover and they all come together to offer a little bit of something for everybody,” Stephenson said. 

When describing Washington’s personality, the first word that came to her mind was “friendly.” 

“We’re very welcoming. We’re very inclusive,” Stephenson said. “People will first say they love the water, they love the river and then they’ll say ‘and the people,’ That’s always next. The people are so friendly here.” 

Stephenson said the friendliness of Washington residents is one of her favorite things about the city. She said even traveling a short distance, she can tell a difference in the way people from other areas versus Washington treat strangers. Sometimes a person could give a hostile look, but in Washington, “it’s not like that. You can speak to anybody and they speak back if they don’t speak to you first.” 

Advertising Washington as a destination for people who enjoy trying different foods is one of  Stephenson’s ideas. “Washington is quickly becoming a foodie destination,” she said. She added how quickly the restaurant scene has changed in downtown in the last three years with the addition of two breweries, Pitt Street on the Pamlico, Two Rivers Alehouse as well as farm-to-table restaurants like The Hackney, The Bank Bistro, the Mulberry House and Lane Blu. 

Not to mention the many events and artists displayed at the Turnage Theater which aims to again provide entertainment for everyone. 

She explained that visitors want to travel to places where they feel their dollars are making a positive impact for that town. “I’ve read a lot of research over the last year that since COVID, people really want to visit a place that supports their own local businesses and they want to know when they visit, spend money in a town, their dollars are going to stay in that town and support that town.” 

But Stephenson’s biggest task beyond promoting the city and attracting tourists is getting the word out that the WTDA exists. She is working to educate the community about what the organization does. “The locals folks here are our best ambassadors for visitors. If they know who we are and what we do then they are going to be the best people to represent us.”