The vital role of tourism in Haywood’s economy will take center stage next Wednesday with an open house hosted by an entourage of state tourism leaders.
Tourism-related businesses will be able to parley with a team of 16 experts from the N.C. Division of Tourism — from the top brass and strategists behind Visit N.C.’s marketing campaigns to niche fields like on-location film production and green travel.
“It’s hard for people to get to Raleigh to meet with them, so they developed this opportunity so you have one-on-one face time,” said Ashley Rice, marketing manager for the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “It is not very often you get this chance.”
The four-hour drop-in open house will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11, at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in the Harrell Center.
Haywood was lucky to land the tourism outreach session, officially known as Visit North Carolina Tourism Resource Assistance Center.
The state tourism division offers a wealth of resources, but those on the front-lines of the tourism field don’t always know about them or how to tap into them.
“I think nowadays lot of people struggle with advertising strategies, so this is an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about marketing their business,” Rice said.
The drop-in style event is designed to be flexible for busy business owners.
“It is come-when-you-can and sit down and talk to us,” Rice said.
The traveling outreach sessions are in high demand, and it took Rice three years of courting to land the event in Haywood.
“I would try every year to see if there was anywhere on the list we could squeeze in,” said Rice.
The outreach session isn’t just for hotels, restaurants, galleries and gift shops, event organizers and bona fide tourist attractions. It’s for any tourism-related business — and in Haywood County, that’s just about everyone. Tourism touches almost every aspect of the local economy, Rice said.
“Think about a mattress store that gets business from people who rent vacation homes,” Rice said. “It’s hard to even quantify how far the tourism dollar goes When you think of tourism-related businesses here, it is such a broad scope.”
The state tourism division is under the N.C. Department of Commerce, so the team is in tune with the needs of small businesses in general.
The lay-out for the outreach session will allow attendees to circulate among tables to talk with representatives and experts in various fields.
The entire staff of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will also have a table.
“A lot of people don’t understand what the TDA is or the benefit the TDA has for them,” said Amie Owens, a town of Waynesville representative on the TDA board. “We want to let the hospitality industry know ‘here’s what we do for you. These are things you have access to whether you realize it or not.’”
For example, the Haywood TDA has an array of itineraries geared for different demographics and interests, which accommodation owners could give out to guests to improve their travel experience, which in turn can convert them into repeat visitors.
“People are always walking in the door of the visitor center for help planning their trip while they’re here,” Rice said.
The TDA also showcases restaurants, farms, galleries, shops and attractions on Haywood’s award-winning travel web site VisitNCSmokies.com.
“That’s our front door for a lot of people making the decision to visit here,” Rice said.
The outreach session will help business owners understand how to tap into that free exposure.
In addition to the team from Visit N.C., the Haywood County Small Business Center will be providing information, and two liaisons from the Blue Ridge Parkway will have a table as well.
Meanwhile, the 16-member team from the state tourism division will overnight in Haywood for two nights. Rice is excited about the opportunity to show-off Haywood’s assets as a tourist destination.
Hopefully, Haywood will stand-out from the pack next time an inquiry comes in to the state tourism office from a travel writer, or when the ad team is brainstorming that next money shot for the Visit N.C. web page.
“It keeps us on the top of their minds,” Rice said. “They gain more of an understanding of our location, the beauty of our area, what we have to offer.”
— With assistance by Becky Johnson